Tiger Woods came off the 18th green after his second round in the 2012 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island tied for the lead. Again.
It was the third consecutive major championship that Woods was in or near the lead at the halfway point.
This had once been a familiar sight — missing maybe for a couple of years, but for more than a decade before, the golf world knew exactly how Woods looked in command of a big tournament. And fans worldwide knew the frequent outcome: 14 major victories.
But in 2012, as good as Woods could sometimes be, there was one Woods on the weekdays of major tournaments and an altogether different Woods on the weekends, especially the last three.
His average score in the first two rounds of this year’s majors was 70, while his average score in the final two rounds was 72.9. It was worse than the statistics indicated — no weekend round under par and three rounds of 74 or higher. In the final three majors, Woods’ average weekday round was even lower (68.8). His weekend average was 72.8.
This was Tiger Woods, golf’s ultimate closer?
Not insignificant, it was notable who stole the show from Woods on the final days of the PGA. As the third round began at Kiawah Island in early August, Rory McIlroy birdied five of his first nine holes. Well aware of McIlroy’s fast start, Woods answered by going 3 over par in his first seven holes — holes he had played in 3 under during the first two rounds.
Woods was not just off his game, he was having trouble keeping the ball in play. With a 15th career major on the line, he yanked tee shots onto adjacent holes, hit one shot into the crowd, flew the green on a par 3 and, at one point, hit three consecutive, dreadfully wayward shots.
In the final round the next day, McIlroy shot a 66 to win by eight strokes. Woods shot a 72 and settled for 11th. Who would have ever thought Tiger Woods would settle for anything in a championship moment?
“I’ve got to just keep putting myself in a position to win, and if it happens often enough, then I will win," Woods said afterward, uttering a line that sounded as if it came from an up-and-coming rookie waiting to break through on the PGA Tour. Except Woods turns 37 on Dec. 30.
This is not to say that Woods will not win another major. He may win two in 2013 and two more the year after that. It is certainly more promising for him that he came close three times in 2012, which was a departure from his middling performances in 2010 and 2011. But the cracks in the armor are breaches apparent to all at this point. Even as he finished the second round at the PGA Championship in August — with a chance to take the outright lead — what did Woods do? He three-putted the 18th green.
It may all be a part of the process that Woods likes to talk about these days. Every revival has its incremental steps forward. And every retreat has its incremental steps backward.
In time, we will see which way Woods is marching. But throughout this year, it was odd to watch him fall apart so routinely because he was the one golfer you once could routinely count on to do the opposite.