Tiger and Morikawa: A difference of 21 years and 12 strokes

© Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — The finish was acceptable, an under-par round, even if didn’t mean much except to the man himself, Tiger Woods, and his fans.

He still can play quite well. What he can’t do is play well enough, often enough, as he once did.

That happens when a golfer gets older, and Woods is getting older. At 44, he may already be old.

He has his good moments, a 67 on Sunday in the final round of the PGA Championship in the fog and chill at Harding Park. He doesn’t have enough of them.

His struggle is less with the younger players, such as 23-year-old Collin Morikawa, who won the 102nd PGA, than that bedeviling foe, Father Time.

There were 21 years and 12 shots difference between Morikawa and Woods. Also a campus difference of note, Morikawa a Cal grad, Tiger having attended Stanford.

Now and then, you can pull a fast one against the calendar, Tiger winning the 2019 Masters at 43 after the back problems; Jack Nicklaus winning it at age 46 in 1986. But most of the time, you lose to time.

Tiger’s PGA was an example of inconsistency. He shot 68-72-72-67—209, one under par for 72 holes; golf that had Woods musing about what might have been if a ball went in the right place on the greens.

It is an old tale of aging. They remember what they used to do and wonder why they can’t do it any longer. Why? Because they’re not young anymore. That’s why.

“I made it happen today,” said Woods of his final round in the PGA. One day isn’t enough in an event that lasts four days, except as bit of reassurance. “I think what I got out of this week is that I felt I was competitive.

“If I would have made a few more putts on Friday early on, and the same thing with Saturday, I felt like I would have been right there with a chance come today. It didn't happen, but I fought hard, and today was more indicative of how I could have played on Friday and Saturday if I would have made a few putts early.”

If, such a huge word in sports, particularly golf, where you’re alone and balls bounce strangely and you have no control over the shots by others — and sometimes because of your own bad swings.

“The golf ball doesn’t know how old you are,” the cliché goes. True. Unfortunately, your body does. Not only do you lose distance, you lose concentration. A golfer may have a great stretch, then suddenly he can’t do anything right.

The process is frustrating. One in a hundred may play better as he or she ages. Hale Irwin had a spectacular career after 50; he also had a magnificent one before, winning three U.S. Opens.

Arnold Palmer was a brilliant putter in his 20s and 30s. It was in his 40s when Arnie couldn’t hole the four- and five-footers. So he tried to hit his irons closer to the pin, messing up his game and his confidence.

Tiger sought a solution by changing his putter. Arnie changed putters and changed putters; in his basement were hundreds. The problem wasn’t the club but the man utilizing it.

Nobody wants to say goodbye. Willie Mays and Joe Namath hung in there until their games became embarrassing. In time, ballplayers and quarterbacks are dropped or persuaded to retire.

The decline may not be quite as noticeable or serious in golf. Don’t aging athletes put away their cleats or spikes and grab a golf club? Why wouldn’t a golfer continue his game if his ego can accept the bogeys?

Woods conceded there’s a sense of urgency when he enters a major. “There’s not as many chances as when I started playing,” said Woods, who joined the Tour in 1996. “The reality is the courses are getting bigger, and the margin between making the cut and the lead is a lot smaller than it used to be.”

The reality is he can’t outlast Father Time. Nobody can.