DUBLIN, Ohio – Every time Tiger Woods hits a spectator with a ball, he tries to make it up to them by giving them an autographed golf glove.
He was running low on gloves Sunday at the Memorial Tournament.
“No kidding, huh? I kept hitting everybody out there today,” Woods said with a wide grin. “Thank God I get them for free.”
On his first swing on the first hole, Woods pulled his drive left and drilled 37-year-old Jeramy May in the neck. “I’m just glad they were on the other side,” May said, pointing toward his daughter and a friend.
On the second hole, Woods hit 19-year-old Alan Flood in the back of his left leg as he was standing far left of the fairway. Then at the 15th hole, Jimmy Craig of suburban Columbus was in the right rough when Woods’ drive hit him in the thumb and then the side.
Woods apologized and shook his hand.
“It’s worth a glove,” Craig said, and Woods obliged.
It was that kind of day for the defending champion, who shot an even-par 72 to finish at 6 under, a dozen shots behind winner Justin Rose. Woods tied for 19th, his worst finish since 2002 at the Memorial, where he has won four times.
Yet he wasn’t disappointed. He expected some problems in his first competitive rounds after sitting out three weeks due to a neck injury. Also, he was playing his first tournament in years without a swing coach. He split with Hank Haney after The Players Championship, where Woods was unable to complete the fourth round because of the injury.
Asked what he discovered at Muirfield Village, Woods laughed.
“Well, I’m capable of playing four rounds in a row,” he said. “Thank you.”
He started and finished with 72s, with a pair of 69s in the middle. His driving was erratic throughout, and he seemed to spend every available second analysing his swing, by himself, pulling back an imaginary club and stopping and starting through impact.
“I felt like this week I hit some really good shots, shots that I have been lacking,” Woods said. “It’s just one of those things where I still need some work at home.”
Mammoth galleries followed him wherever he went, squishing away en masse in the mud left by a weekend of storms at the Memorial.
Woods birdied three holes on the front side of the final round but also had two bogeys — one after hitting Flood at No. 2. He parred out the back side except for a bogey at the par-3 16th.
Because he had so much troubling controlling his drives, he played poorly on the longest holes. He was 6 under on the par 5s — a year ago he was 11 under on those same holes.
“Still not quite right,” he said of his tee shots. “Not enough air. I felt a little bit defensive. I was hitting the ball, basically, too easy and just putting it in play instead of going ahead and just letting it go. Then I was trying to place the ball on the correct side of the fairway to give myself angles. Maybe I was trying to do that too much instead of just hitting it down there like everybody else is.”
Woods was pleased for the most part with the rest of his game. He pronounced himself well over half way to being ready for the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach on June 17-20.
“I need to be able to shape the ball both ways comfortably. I was able to do that most of the week here this week, which was good,” Woods said. “I hit some shots that I hadn’t hit in a long time.”