Woods clearly off target at Quail Hollow

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- As the round hopelessly and painfully came to a close, the thousands of fans who were witness to something rarely seen were in the uncomfortable position of cheering on golf's best player without having anything to cheer about.

"Ugly" doesn't do justice to the golf that was on display Friday at Quail Hollow from Tiger Woods.

What word does?

The scandalous revelations of recent months, the distractions associated with his return to golf, the private family matters that are sure to be bothering him. … None of it would ever lead you to think such a poor showing was possible.

Woods shot 79 and missed the cut by a mile, the second-worst score of his professional career. Friday's tally was outdone only by an 81 in the third round of the 2002 British Open at Muirfield, where it rained sideways and the wind chill was in the 30s.

Here, it was sunny and mild, yet Woods shot rounds of 74-79, beat just 10 players in the field and finished 16 strokes behind Angel Cabrera, who played with him in the first two rounds.

Woods not only played poorly but clearly gave up -- something you never, ever see him do because he never, ever does. Until Friday.

"It's frustrating," Woods said. "I didn't have much. At that point in time, it was pretty much out of reach and I was just trying to stay out of Angel's way. He's the one who's leading the golf tournament [actually 1 stroke behind Billy Mayfair], and that's what you're kind of supposed to do."

For the first time since his return, a few catcalls were evident, not that Woods gave any hint that it bothered him.

Yet he never showed such indifference as he did after making three straight bogeys on the back nine to fall four shots off the cut line with six holes to go. Then a double-bogey at the 14th hole -- where he chipped across the green and into the water -- followed by some hurry-up golf and a four-putt at No. 15 simply turned it into a breaking-80 watch.

Of course, Woods had no experience with this brand of golf. When has he ever been so far removed from the cut line with so many holes to go?

At last year's British Open, he missed the cut by a stroke. At the 2006 U.S. Open, where he was competing for the first time after the death of his father, Woods came up 3 shots short of playing the weekend. He has never before been so hopelessly out of it.

"He had a hard time, it looks like, keeping the accelerator down on the back nine when things got out of hand," said Stewart Cink, who played the first two rounds with Woods and also missed the cut. "That's the way it goes.

"He's obviously got things in his mind other than what's going on between the ropes right now. … You have to learn how to balance what's going on in your life with your golf. If you're not in a great place mentally, it sometimes shows up."

Woods blamed most of Friday's woes on his short game, but there is no denying the difficulty of playing when you hit just two fairways and need 34 putts in a round.

For the tournament, Woods found only six fairways.

"I've seen him struggle like that off the tee, but usually he is the magician who gets the ball up and down from everywhere," Cink said. "But you have to remember he hasn't played a lot of golf since November. It's hard to come back and be a magician instantly when you take so much time off. That's where being sharp really comes into play. It's tournament No. 2 of the year. I'm sure it's still in there."

Woods' relationship with swing coach Hank Haney inevitably will come into question again, as it has repeatedly whenever the No. 1 player hits a wayward drive, despite the incredible success Woods has had with the instructor's help since 2005.

Yes, Woods has missed four cuts (think about that -- four cuts in six years) under Haney's tutelage, but he also has won six major championships and has had more consistently high finishes than at any point in his career.

After missing the cut at the 2006 U.S. Open, Woods won six of his next seven tournaments and finished second in the other.

After missing the cut at the 2009 British Open, Woods won three of his next seven tournaments and finished second in three others, with his worst finish of the year a tie for 11th.

Haney declined to comment and has not spoken about Woods' game all year. And who can blame him? The scrutiny on Woods' swing and game is maddening, even with such a high rate of success.

So was the tie for fourth at the Masters the aberration, or was it beating just 10 players here?

The good news for Woods is he gets a quick crack at redemption when he tees it up at next week's Players Championship at Sawgrass, a place where he has just a single victory and not much recent success. To perform decently at a venue where he hasn't finished well -- even in the best of times -- might provide some more answers.

"At least I get the weekend to watch and see how it's done, how real players play golf, and hopefully I can piece it together for next week and be ready to go," Woods said.

Who knew Woods could be so self-deprecating? Then again, the numbers on the scorecard don't lie.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.