BETHESDA, Md. — “Rough” doesn’t adequately describe the places Tiger Woods found himself on the Congressional Country Club course Friday. Among trees, clinging to a downhill slope above a small creek, on the wrong side of the cart path.
Repeatedly in deep trouble and high grass, Woods shot 4-over-par 75 at the PGA Tour’s Quicken Loans National event. Combined with his 74 Thursday, he was left 7 over and 13 shots behind leaders Marc Leishman, Oliver Goss, Ricky Barnes and Patrick Reed.
For only the 10th time since he joined the pro tour in 1996 and for the first time in his last 27 events, Woods failed to make the cut for a tournament’s final two rounds.
But, silver-lining department: At least he has his health. Three months after back surgery to relieve a pinched nerve, and four weeks earlier than he expected to resume competition, he was fairly ebullient with developments here.
“I hate to say it, but I’m really encouraged by what happened,” Woods said. “I missed the cut by four shots. That’s a lot. But the fact of what I was able to do physically, and the speed I had and the distance I was hitting the golf ball again, I hadn’t done that in a very long time.
“And to recover like I did overnight (from Thursday’s round) … Felt great today. I made so many little mistakes, not having the right feel for certain shots, not judging the wind correctly, the speed on putts, all the little things I know I can fix. So it’s very encouraging.”
His presence here was a reminder that, even if he lately has seemed to be a champion emeritus, he remains the sport’s biggest celebrity, drawing large crowds to his 8 a.m. start Thursday and a far larger and more vocal following for Friday’s afternoon round.
While Barnes, the sole leader most of the day, was watched by a mere handful of fans, the numbers chasing Woods easily were 40 times greater.
It’s just that there was no getting around Woods’ five bogeys and one double bogey. He made only three birdies and squandered a handful of chances to trim strokes off his unattractive score.
After four consecutive pars to start the day — two of those saved with dramatic scrambles from outside the ropes — Woods double-bogeyed the par-4 fifth hole when he needed two shots to get out of a bunker and left a chip and a putt woefully short.
After a bogey on No. 8, he appeared capable of a spirited recovery when he curled in a 26-foot putt for birdie on No. 9 and followed that with a 12-foot birdie putt on No. 10. But he quickly wandered off course again — literally away from the manicured fairways — and made four consecutive bogeys.
His only hope of surviving for the weekend rounds of the tournament he hosts, which benefits his eponymous foundation, was to invoke house rules: His event, his choice of who makes the cut. Or: activate the just-back-from-injury handicap, since this was his first competitive golf since March.
So he’s back? Definitely?