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Tiger Woods stumbles on nearly empty course in first round of playoffs

Tiger Woods early on Thursday morning at a nearly deserted Liberty National Golf Club. (Getty)

(This article is not about the leader of the Northern Trust Open. This article is about Tiger Woods, who draws more interest than the rest of the PGA Tour combined. If you’re interested in how the rest of the tournament is going, we invite you to go here for all the information you might possibly need on the first round of the FedEx Cup Playoffs.)

It’s starting to look more and more like Tiger Woods’ victory at the Masters in April was an aberration, and the will-he-make-the-cut battles he’s faced since then are the new normal. Woods finished his first round at the Northern Trust Open, the first round of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, at +4, a full 13 strokes behind clubhouse leader (and course record-setter) Troy Merritt. He’s got work to do to even make the weekend.

Needing a good tournament in either the Northern Trust or next week’s BMW Championship in order to advance to the Tour Championship and the playoff finale, Woods stumbled right out of the gate on Thursday morning. Playing before a nearly empty Liberty National Golf Club — the gates were closed until 10am, more than two hours after Woods teed off, because of weather concerns from the night before — Woods was pretty much horrendous from the jump, at one point going four-over on a stretch of six holes that included one birdie, one double, and three bogeys. He righted the card somewhat on his second nine, in the sense that he finished it in even par. Small victories.

Inconsistency in every phase of his game doomed Woods. He followed up every booming drive with an offline chip. He followed every pinpoint pitch with a badly missed putt. And he followed every deadeye flatstick stroke with a wild, loose drive. Repeat, repeat.

Woods is in a hell of a fix now, career-wise. His body won’t let him play frequently enough to get better. But he can’t improve if he doesn’t play more often. He’s fighting not just the rest of the field, but his own creaking body, which is taking more and more days off when Woods can least afford it.

Woods’ physical setbacks are all the more frustrating given the fact that it’s clear what he can do when the conditions and the moments are just right.

Earlier in the week, Woods shed a bit of light on why he continues to play on an episode of “CBS This Morning.” Short answer: his kids.

"I am just Dad,” Woods said of his kids. “That's all they know. They associated golf with pain ... They're both excited I'm playing again. But also, 'You OK, Dad?' You know, that kind of thing. They remember those times when Dad couldn't get off the couch.”

It’s a strange dynamic, Woods being both a famous historical figure and a current, very average golfer. He noted that his kids have seen him on YouTube and recognized that the golfer from the early 2000s isn’t the same one that’s playing now. And the one playing now has a long way to go to get back to even winning, much less matching those old marks.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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