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ATLANTA -- It was a quick walk to the parking lot, a few steps gingerly taken along the way. Tiger Woods was doing his best to avoid the masses, not even stopping to take off his shoes, cutting behind the clubhouse and then across the first fairway, pausing to sign autographs for some screaming kids who chased after him.
He then ducked behind some bushes, emerged to get in his car, and left East Lake after another perplexing day at the Tour Championship.
|The Tour Championship leader after 36 holes, Henrik Stenson, played with only 13 clubs on Friday after the face on his 4-wood caved in on the practice range at East Lake Golf Club.|
A few minutes earlier, Woods had uttered the words that you don't expect him to say: "Just ran out of gas ... I'm tired ... It's been just a long, long grind."
Perhaps it was just frustration talking, the words that come out in the heat of the moment, going 6 over par for 5 holes after his round began so promisingly. Woods got to 5 under par through 13 holes, then gave it all away. He will begin the third round 14 strokes back of 36-hole leader Henrik Stenson.
Then again, this is Woods, golf's shining example of an athlete, a workout fanatic who professes his love for the gym helps him endure the pressures of his sport, making it easier to deal with the physical and mental demands.
"It's why I've spent all that time practicing and training, to be in this position," Woods said earlier this year at Bay Hill.
On Friday, he looked and sounded like a guy who had enough.
"We play a lot of golf from the British Open on and some of the years where I have gotten worn out is when I've been in contention a lot," Woods said. "Four rounds being in contention. Unfortunately, I've only had a couple of tournaments there where I've been right in the hunt, at Barclays and ended up winning at Firestone."
Say what you want about golfers and whether their sport is taxing, but it can be a grind. It might not be a contact sport, but there is wear and tear, the constant pounding of golf clubs into the ground and the vibration that it sends up into the hands, wrists, forearms and shoulders, not to mention the back.
Woods dealt with his share of injuries in recent years, most notably his knee and Achilles, but this year he had an elbow issue that kept him out of two tournaments and then the back problem the surfaced at the Barclays.
"All of us are tired," said Justin Rose, the U.S. Open champion.
"It kind of builds up, and eventually it goes over the limit," Stenson said Thursday when explaining why he lost his temper last week at the BMW Championship where he broke a club and also damaged a locker. "For me, it comes down to being tired. I played so much golf. I played so well, and I just haven't been able to get any rest."
No doubt, this is the culmination of a long stretch of golf, maybe too long. And next year it gets worse, as the four FedEx Cup playoff events are played in four consecutive weeks to give players a break prior to the Ryder Cup.
Remember back to now when guys are traveling from Boston to Denver following a Monday finish at the Deutsche Bank, with a pro-am and then the BMW Championship to follow at Cherry Hills. You can already hear the grumbling.
Then you wonder if Woods is just tired of all the drama.
Yes, he's won five times this year, and barring a victory by Adam Scott at the Tour Championship, that should be enough to get him player of the year honors from his peers. He's won the PGA Tour's money title for the 10th time and is likely to claim the Vardon Trophy for low scoring average.
But he didn't win a major championship for the fifth straight year. He was involved in three high-profile rules dust-ups, including another one last week at the BMW Championship that continues to be the source of conversation. And there were the injuries, including a back problem that may or may not still be bothering him.
This is Woods' seventh tournament in 10 weeks dating to the Open Championship, and while nobody is going to feel sorry for a golfer being asked to play too much golf, it is an issue not just with Woods.
Brandt Snedeker has played every tournament starting with the Open Championship, nine in 10 weeks. Stenson has played eight tournaments in 11 weeks. Jason Dufner, who won the PGA Championship last month, looks nothing like the golfer who struck the ball so well in winning his first major championship.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that Snedeker and Dufner are near the bottom of the Tour Championship standings, as is Woods.
Still, it was an uncharacteristic admission for Woods, who started out so strongly Friday, only to falter over the closing five holes.
"I put everything I had into that start and didn't have much at the end," he said. "Just ran out of gas."
He hit a poor tee shot to the left at the 14th hole that led to a double bogey and then hooked another tee shot into the water at the 17th, leading to a triple. "My legs were just tired," he said. "I didn't rotate through the ball and I turned it over. Same thing I did on 14. Same shot."
The No. 1-ranked player in the world, Woods still looks as physically fit as he did a decade ago.
He just didn't sound like it Friday.