SRPINGFIELD, N.J. – He gets an extra, excruciating night.

To toss and turn.

And wonder.

What if?

“If I did that,” Tiger Woods said, “playing golf would drive me crazy. Every guy who plays golf, if they did a what if,’ especially out here on tour, you’d drive yourself crazy.”

Right.

And if you believe that, there’s still some swampland near here available for sale.

So we’ll play “what if?” for him.

What if Woods hadn’t shot an opening-round 75, his worst-ever start in a major? What if he had just played the par 5s at Baltusrol Golf Club the way he plays them everywhere else?

On the PGA Tour this season, Woods averages 4.49 on par 5s – a blade of grass separates him from Retief Goosen’s category-best 4.48 average – meaning he makes birdies more than half the time. At Baltusrol, in eight tries at Nos. 17 and 18, the only par 5s on the course, Woods made two bogeys and only three birdies, two of them coming back-to-back in his round of 68 on Sunday.

That got him to 2-under for the tournament, making Woods the leader in the clubhouse when a band of storms rolled into the area early in the evening and forced officials to postpone completion of the final round. Phil Mickelson was in front at 4-under, looking over a short par putt on the 14th green. Trailing Lefty, but still ahead of Woods, were Thomas Bjorn, playing the 15th, and Steve Elkington, on the 16th tee, both at 3 under.

“I bet Tiger’s disappointed that they blew the whistle, given the way the wind turned around,” Elkington said. “It’s a shame, obviously, that we didn’t get to finish. But I didn’t want to play the last three holes into the wind, either.”

It’s little consolation for Woods at the moment, but there’s always the possibility the weather will be a factor when play resumes Monday. And granted, he can’t do a thing about that.

But there are a few other things Woods could have controlled. And despite his disclaimer, you can bet Woods will be eating his heart out just before his head hits the pillow Sunday night.

What if he hadn’t butchered the front nine every day, playing them a cumulative 4 over? What if he had three-putted only three times instead of five, especially since it was two missed putts at the U.S. Open just two months ago that arguably cost him a chance at a playoff and a shot at the Grand Slam.

“I didn’t have my speed right this week,” Woods said about his putting. “Either I made it or I struggled. It was frustrating because it came in streaks again this week. I’d pour them in for a while, then lose it for a few holes.”

So maybe it’s no surprise that what kick-started Woods’ final round was playing a hole where he didn’t have to use the putter at all. At No. 7, his tee shot came to rest under a pine tree in the left rough when threatening weather forced the day’s first stoppage. When he returned, Woods took an unplayable lie, knocked his third shot into the greenside collar of rough and coolly holed a wedge shot for par.

For a moment, Woods almost seemed embarrassed by that fortunate turn of events, pulling his cap down to cover his face. The moment after that, he sank his claws into Baltusrol, making birdies at the eighth, 14th and the last two. But all that did was get Woods into the locker room in time to claim a good seat in front of the TV and see whether the leaders would leak enough strokes to make sticking around for the rest of the afternoon worth his while. Now, that feeling of helplessness extends through Monday morning.

“In other sports, if one part of your game is not going well – let’s say basketball – if you’re not scoring well, you can shut somebody down on defense, apply your efforts somewhere else.

“Golf,” Woods said finally, “doesn’t work that way.”

Knowing that Woods can’t do anything from the sidelines except watch when play resumes, Elkington was willing to indulge in a little “what if” himself.

“I only have three holes left and two of them are par 5s. So my mindset as of right now is I’ll probably be the first one with a chance to post a score better than Tiger’s,” he said, “and hopefully, it’s about 5-under.”


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