Woods’ struggles continue|Martin Laird takes lead at Barclays

Published 1:08 pm Sunday, August 29, 2010

By By Mark Herrmann, Newsday
PARAMUS, N.J. — His first swing out of the blocks took the air out of The Barclays. The loud cheers that greeted Tiger Woods’ introduction on the first tee Saturday were practically still in the air as he struck his opening 3-wood shot. As the ball sailed out of bounds, the enthusiastic crowd let out a cross between a gasp and a groan.
That shot led to a triple-bogey 7, and worse. As the world’s No. 1 golfer said right after he finished shooting 1-over-par 72, ‘‘In the end, it probably cost me a chance to win the golf tournament.’’
It still could be an exciting finish on Sunday in The Barclays at Ridgewood Country Club, with Martin Laird of Scotland at 12-under, holding a three-stroke lead over Dustin Johnson — known for final-round drama at the U.S Open and PGA — and second-round leader Jason Day. It just won’t have the electricity that had been building since Woods had his best round of the year Thursday. At 3-under, he is tied for 28th, nine shots back.
Fans had bought into Woods’ chances of breaking his seasonlong drought here. They cheered hard for him. He seemed to believe, too, having spoken excitedly about the genesis of a new swing with advice from his not-yet-official coach Sean Foley. But right around the time he pulled the club back on the first hole Saturday, he didn’t quite trust the new fundamentals.
‘‘Simple, I got caught between the new swings,’’ he said. ‘‘I wasn’t committed to what I was doing.’’
There was no intentional irony (considering the choices he had made in his personal life, resulting in the divorce that was announced this week) when he added: ‘‘That’s strictly from lack of commitment.’’
As a golfer and a person, Woods still is in transition. He has not officially hired Foley or formally adopted a new swing approach. He does seem to be leaning that way, sounding optimistic after making birdies on his final two holes.
‘‘I’m very excited about what I’m doing, how I’m hitting the golf ball. The shots that I’m hitting, the crispness coming off and how many shots I hit the last three rounds pin high, exactly pin high,’’ Woods said, adding that he had hit poor shots like his No. 1 tee shot when he was making swing changes with coaches Butch Harmon and Hank Haney.
‘‘There were years where I didn’t play well,’’ he said. ‘‘I’ve been through all that. It takes time.’’
Truth is, Woods actually ranks behind the unheralded Laird in the FedEx Cup standings, 112th to 95th, respectively. Each had to play well this week just to make it into the second week of the playoffs. Laird, a 27-year-old from Glasgow who went to Colorado State and has one career PGA Tour victory, has outplayed Woods here.
If Laird shoots anything like the bogey-free 65 he shot Saturday, people will know more about his story: He played well on Scotland’s junior circuit, subscribed to a service that posts teenagers’ resumes for American colleges, signed on at Colorado State at 17 (never having been on this side of the Atlantic before), earned his Nationwide Tour card right after college. ‘‘That’s probably why I’m still here,’’ said the golfer who lives in Arizona and is engaged to an American. ‘‘Who knows? If I had missed Q-School that first year, I might have gone back to Europe.’’
When he goes home now, his childhood friends think he has a funny accent.
For now, though, there was only one golfer the fans treated like a rock star Saturday. As Woods waited to do a TV interview, fans chanted ‘‘Ti-ger!’’ And they roared for him after his round and his media session, as he headed back to the driving range to practice that new swing.
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