Amateur steps up as Woods enters 'downward spiral'

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Laberge/Getty Images
October 06, 2011
Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM Site Producer

SAN MARTIN, Calif. -- If this were a football game, it would have been over at halftime, only with the unexpected outcome of UCLA over Stanford.

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The top-ranked player in the world shot a 2-under 69 in Thursday's opening round of the Frys.com Open.

There was a time when that sentence would have been referring to Tiger Woods. Instead, it refers to top-ranked amateur Patrick Cantlay, the 19-year-old Bruins sophomore who put on the kind of performance we've grown accustomed to seeing from Woods.

Except lately that is.

Woods struggled to a 2-over 73 at CordeValle, calling it "one of the worst putting rounds" he's ever had.

"I can't putt the ball any worse than I did today," Woods said.

You can fault Woods' score after putting in two months of hard work since missing the cut at the PGA Championship in August, but you can't fault his honesty.

The numbers were as bone-chilling as the weather on a wet, chilly day just a half hour from Woods' former school Stanford University. Despite hitting just nine greens in regulation, Woods still needed 27 putts. He managed to make only one of them from beyond 6 feet.

In strokes gained-putting, Woods actually lost (1.245) strokes to the field. He ranks 101st in the field.

What was once his health, then his swing, is now what was once the most unflappable part of Woods' game: His putting has gone from strength to hindrance. At least on Thursday it did.

Woods after Round 1 of Frys.com Open

Following his opening-round 73, Tiger Woods talks to the media about his play in the 2011 Frys.com Open.

"I just had a hard time hitting my stroke, and then I started altering it," Woods said. "I started losing confidence in it because I wasn't hitting my line. So it was just a downward spiral."

Cantlay was the complete opposite. His stock has been rising ever since he shot a course-record 60 in the Travelers Championship earlier this summer.

In four starts on TOUR, Cantlay has four top-25 finishes, including a tie for ninth at the RBC Canadian Open. Not even Woods can match that percentage this year.

There was a time when guys used to melt under the spotlight that is playing with Woods. Instead, Cantlay relished it as he stole the show playing alongside the world's former No. 1.

Cantlay was California cool, unfazed by it all.

"Same nerves as any time," said Cantlay, who also played with Woods in a pro-am earlier this week at the nearby Institute. "You have nerves on the first tee, at least I do. And I settled down there and had a bunch of fun."

With three birdies and just one bogey it's easy to understand why.

Cantlay was so focused on his own performance he didn't seem to much notice Woods'.

"I didn't have any expectations for what he was going to do or what anybody else was going to do except for myself," Cantlay said. "It was what it was."

Ditto for Woods. Unless he can figure out the flat stick, he could be in danger of missing the cut in two consecutive starts for the first time in his career.

"The hardest part today was I just didn't have the speed," Woods said.

Cantlay did, and he sped past Woods in the process.

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