By Ben Nuckols
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
GAINESVILLE, Va. _ Tiger Woods knows he’s played poorly over the past two years. Now, he’s facing the prospect of an early end to his season.
Normally, the Quicken Loans National would be the beginning of a busy stretch of golf for Woods, including the year’s final major, a World Golf Championship and the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Not this year. Barring a dramatic turnaround, this week’s tournament will be his second-to-last before the new PGA Tour season begins in the fall.
Woods is 197th in the FedEx Cup standings _ the top 125 make the playoffs _ and he needs a victory just to be eligible for next week’s Bridgestone Invitational, on a course where he’s won eight times. His last victory was at Firestone two years ago.
Woods was sidelined three months after back surgery in 2014, and this year he took two months off to fix a balky short game. He said Tuesday that he doesn’t feel a huge sense of urgency because he hasn’t played much competitive golf, something caddie Joe LaCava is always reminding him.
“Still trying to make a big, major swing change. Problems with my pattern and my short game,” Woods said, reciting the litany of woes that have seen him fall to 266th in the world. “I haven’t scored very well. I missed cuts. I haven’t done much in the last couple of years and so I haven’t played a whole lot of golf in the last couple years. That’s what Joey keeps reminding me of, ‘Would you just relax?”’
If Woods is feeling stressed, it wasn’t evident during Tuesday morning’s practice round. He joked around with good friend Arjun Atwal, turning serious only when Atwal ribbed him about getting older. “I’m not 40 yet,” said Woods, who’ll reach that milestone in December.
Woods mostly found the fairways with his driver and routinely flew the ball 30 yards past Atwal. He said he hits the ball about a club farther in the muggy summer weather _ in contrast to the cold and wind he battled in the British Open at St. Andrews, where he missed the cut.
Woods said after his latest disappointing finish in a major that his “spin rates” were off. But he didn’t touch a club for a week after St. Andrews, instead going diving with his children in the Bahamas.
“When I geared back up, started doing some testing and found a couple little things but wasn’t anything major, which was nice,” Woods said. “Some of my swings just weren’t quite right.”
In eight events this year, Woods has missed three cuts and withdrawn once. He’s shot five rounds in the 60s and three rounds in the 80s. His best finish is a tie for 17th at the Masters. While he used to find ways to break par when his game wasn’t sharp, now he said he’s shooting 74 or worse.
“I’m not scoring, obviously,” he said. “I’ve had chances to make those runs and I just haven’t done it.”
Woods is the host of the Quicken Loans National, which benefits his foundation. This year it’s being played for the first time at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, about 35 miles west of the nation’s capital. Next year it will return to Congressional, where it’s been played six times.
RTJ has hosted four Presidents Cups, most recently in 2005.
“It’s a lot bigger golf course than I remember in ’05,” Woods said. “We played some more up tees back then, but the game has changed the past 10 years. Everybody hits the ball a little bit further.”
Congressional attracted elite fields its first few years, but this year’s event has a tough spot on the calendar, with many players taking a week off ahead of the Bridgestone and the PGA Championship. Just five of the world’s top 50 are playing, including defending champion Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler.
World No. 14 Jimmy Walker comes in relatively fresh, having played just three times since May. He’s gearing up for the big events that Woods is in danger of missing.
“I played with him at Augusta this year. You could tell he really wanted to make the putts and hit the good shots,” Walker said of Woods. “It looks like he’s got the drive to get things going for him. I hope he does.”