Foes Respect – But No Longer Fear – Tiger

NEWTOWN SQUARE, PENNSYLVANIA |Tiger Woods played the gracious padrone of the tournament formerly known as the AT&T National hosted by Tiger Woods last week, even if the sponsoring company insisted that his name be stricken from logos plastered all around Aronimink in the wake of months of scandalous revelations about his now not-so-private life.

CBS Sports, in fact, had to correct one of its press releases to expunge his name from hosting duties, but the network had far bigger problems on the weekend. Woods’ mostly mediocre play in the Philadelphia suburbs left him with early starting times Saturday and Sunday, and he was off the course before the network was on the air both days, a ratings disaster.

Despite tie-for-fourth finishes in the first two majors of the season, when he never really threatened on Sunday, Woods’ performance so far in this season of his discontent has been mediocre at best, at least in contrast to the standard he has set for most of the past 14 years. Only once over that span did his season scoring average go above 70 strokes per round. This year, it’s 71.26.

And for the first time in a long time, The Woods Whine is starting to approach the same decibel levels as those irritating South African horns blaring during the World Cup.

At the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, he was moaning about “awful” greens in the opening round, even if everyone had to deal with them. Last week at Aronimink, it was all about his putting, using the same A-word.

On Friday, clearly frustrated, he said, “I hit it awesome, putt awful. I putt great, hit it awful. It’s always something, isn’t it.”

On Saturday, after a bogey-bogey beginning, it was, “I got off to just an awful start … probably the worst start you could ever get off to … mistake after mistake.”

The woe-is-me moan meter is starting to reach off-the-chart levels, particularly for a man still ranked No. 1 in the world, and it’s actually starting to get a little tiresome.

So is the way he’s been playing this year. Make a birdie, then make a bogey, and then maybe another. Tease with a 66 Saturday at Pebble, then revert to mere mortal status with a Sunday 75, when even par would have produced a Monday playoff. Miss a four-footer at the last hole here Thursday, then add a couple of power lip-outs on Friday inside three feet on the way to just making it into the weekend field, tied for 64th place, as in dead last.

At the moment, Woods seemingly strikes no fear in his once flailing foes, even if most of them publicly insist he’s far too talented to let this sudden swoon linger. And yet, you also have to wonder about the state of his own scarred psyche in the wake of so many revelations about his serial infidelities.

On Golf Channel Friday, former Tour player Brandel Chamblee went so far as to describe Woods as being “emotionally and psychologically bankrupt.”

“It must feel like everything is crashing in on top of him right now,” said Jason Day, who idolized Woods as a youngster and took up the game because of him. “To play golf on top of that and to have the expectations of the whole of America, the whole of the world on top of his shoulders, it’s tough to play. I get stressed out if I’m five minutes late for my tee time.”

Still, perhaps no player has ever been better in compartmentalizing his life, with his golf nestled into the most important compartment. Change a swing teacher, keep winning. Lose a parent, keep winning. Married, with children, keep winning. Break a leg and tear a ligament, keep winning.

But now, the humiliating daily fallout from his well-documented indiscretions makes many wonder if he can keep winning the way he once did. He certainly talks a good game, insisting he’s close, so very close. And he now refers to his off- the-course woes as “distractions” as in “I think everyone has distractions in their lives,” he said.

“My life out here is becoming more normalized, getting out here and talking to you (reporters) about the game of golf and why I haven’t won a tournament yet this year or why I hit that shot or this shot. It wasn’t like that at the beginning of the year. But now that certainly has changed, and for the good.”

How good remains to be seen. Woods next travels to St. Andrews in two weeks, where he’ll be facing a pack of British tabloid pit bulls when he shows up in the press marquis for a news conference two days before he starts to play. It may be worth the price of a plane ticket just to read the headlines that week.

Still, simply based on past performance, his victories at St. Andrews in 2000 and 2005, he’ll probably be favored to win by the British bookies, and his fellow pros still seem to hold him in high regard.

“If he gets charging and he gets near the top of the leaderboard, he still has a presence, no doubt about that,” Englishman Justin Rose said. “To bring your best on the golf course when you’re probably being depleted in so many other areas mentally, it’s difficult. When he starts driving it well, you know his game is never far away. The putting … that’ll come with confidence. If he starts giving himself some good looks, that will happen.”

We’ll see.

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