Photo: Andrew Redington (Getty)

Remember how surprising it was back in April, when Tiger Woods won the Masters and it seemed like the grueling decade-plus of injury hell he spent between major championships might finally have spit out a Tiger Woods once again capable of regularly competing against a new generation of golf stars? Hang onto the memory of that thrill, because if you were hoping for a repeat at The Open, hoo boy was Thursday a big old disappointment. Tiger wasn’t just lousy—he looked as worn-out and decrepit as ever.

The problems started immediately, on the very first tee, with Tiger wincing ominously after ripping his opening drive into the cabbage. Conditions were nasty enough at Royal Portrush without Tiger also all stiff and sore after his very first stroke of the tournament:

It was pretty much downhill from there. Tiger scraped out pars on the first four holes but gave up ground along the way, and then went bogey-double bogey-bogey and turned the course into a zig-zagging cross-country excursion, bouncing from different cuts of rough and into and out of dunes. His lone birdie came on the par-4 15th, by which time he was already six shots over par and roughly a jillion off the lead. Tiger finished with a lousy 78, tied for the third worst round he’s played at a major tournament in his career. He took 32 putts, hit just eight fairways, and was 10 of 18 on greens in regulation. He sucked. His round was so lousy that the one moment of fleeting success was worth a mock celebration (and was soon followed by another bogey).

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Worse even than the score was how Tiger moved around on the course, frowning constantly and bending gingerly and grimacing and stretching. After it was over, Tiger gave a very bleak depiction of his condition and chances of regularly competing. Per ESPN:

“Just the way it is. Father Time and some procedures I’ve had over the time. Just the way it’s going to be. As I said, one of the reasons why I’m playing less tournaments this year is that I can hopefully prolong my career and be out here for a little bit longer.”

[...]

“I’m not 24 anymore. Life changes, life moves on. And I can’t devote, as I’ve told you many times, I can’t devote the hours to practice like I used to. Standing on the range, hitting balls for four or five hours, go play 36, come back, run 4 or 5 miles and then go to the gym. Those days are gone.

“I have to be realistic about my expectations and hopefully peaking at the right time. I peaked at Augusta well. And hopefully I can peak a few more times this year.”

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Tiger looked beat at Pebble Beach in June, and after a month off he looked even worse Thursday in Northern Ireland. It’s clear that whatever sequence of procedures and treatments and pilates or whatever tuned him up for Augusta has not carried over its positive effects into the summer, and is evidently not repeatable. His bionic spine is still an unstable mess, and from the sound of it is not good for more than a couple real pushes in a tournament per year, if even that. Tiger seems resigned to a future where “peaking at the right time” physically is the difference between competent play and horrendous, painful embarrassment.