LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - What next for Tiger Woods? This is a tantalizing question on the lips of many, including the former world number one himself as he puts his golf clubs away for a while after enduring a dismal PGA Tour campaign.
Now ranked a mind-blowing 257th after mainly struggling over the past two years, Woods missed four cuts -- three of them in the majors -- while recording just one top-10 in 11 starts on his 2014-15 schedule.
Still working through the latest swing change of his career after recovering from back surgery, the 39-year-old American has looked a pale shadow of the dominant player he once was, though he did end his season on a positive note last week.
In a late but failed attempt to qualify for the PGA Tour’s FedExCup playoffs, Woods decided to tee it up for the first time at the Wyndham Championship where he stayed in contention until he fell off the pace in the final round.
He rebounded from a triple-bogey on 11 with birdies on four of his last six holes for a 70, but his tie for 10th was not good enough to keep his season alive and he does not plan to compete again until the 2015-16 PGA Tour opener in October.
“Frys and possibly Mexico for sure,” Woods told reporters at the Wyndham Championship when asked whether his next event would be the Oct. 15-18 Frys.com Open in Napa, California.
The 14-times major champion is then scheduled to play an exhibition in Mexico with his fellow American Matt Kuchar, with whom he shares the same manager. Beyond that, Woods was not prepared to commit.
As for the state of his game, that remains a work in progress. Woods recorded his best PGA Tour finish in two years at the Wyndham Championship, but his 2015 campaign produced many more low points than highlights.
He suffered from wayward driving for most of the season and a surprisingly bad short game earlier this year that prompted talk of the chipping yips. In June, he posted his worst round as a professional with a shocking 85 at the Memorial tournament.
For Woods, the biggest problem has been infrequent play due to his recovery from surgery and plummeting ranking.
”I had surgery last year and I haven’t played hardly at all,“ he said at the Wyndham Championship. ”This is my 11th event for the year. It’s not a real big sample size.
“I need to get more consistent with everything and start stringing together not just holes, not just rounds but tournaments.”
Woods has been criticized by some pundits for focusing too much on the technical aspects of the game but another former world number one, Nick Price, believes his struggles are part of a much bigger picture.
”It’s a series of events,“ three-times major winner Price told Reuters. ”It’s more than just the fact that he has got bogged down on method as opposed to feel. His injury, that set him aside. The loss of confidence has a lot to do with it.
”Some of the other things that happened to him off the golf course hurt him as well. The biggest thing is how badly he has been driving the ball. Without a driver that goes in the fairway, this game is very difficult indeed.
“But Tiger has the ability. He’s such a phenomenal athlete and I‘m sure he will figure out a way to get back there. I certainly think he will be back winning again.”
Former United States Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger feels that Woods is paying a price for focusing too much on the physical side of the game.
”He is trying to make these swing changes and I think his problem is mental,“ Azinger told Reuters. ”Sometimes you tinker too much and you get to a point where you don’t know what’s natural any more.
“I think he’s a little bit scared. He’s probably wondering, ‘How is this happening to me?’ I would never write Tiger off but it’s hard to watch the greatest player of this generation play like this. Tiger is in a different place mentally than he was.”
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue