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Tiger's Descent: From Pitfall to Downfall to Freefall

The sad thing is we may have already seen the best of Tiger Woods, that if he ever returns to any sort of form, he won’t be half the player he was, even if half a Tiger is better than a whole anybody else.

We’ve made this business of major championships all about Tiger, back when he was winning and now when he’s not, it’s still about Tiger. We hang onto the flimsy reed of belief that any minute now, Woods will rip open his Sunday red shirt, reveal a big “S” on his chest and retake the competitive game with a powerful swoosh. Maybe he believes that, too.

The sound you will hear will be the great sigh of relief by those who contend that the needle won’t move in the golf world until we get back some semblance of Tiger, circa 2000 or thereabouts.

It’s time to break through the wall of denial and let go of this Tiger addiction we’re all strung out on. Let’s face it, he’s probably not going to win the PGA Championship this week at Wisconsin’s Whistling Straits, he might not win another major for a year – or longer – and he’s likely to be a captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup, and who’d ever have predicted that?

Although, to be honest, we’re not the only ones afraid to face reality. Woods was asked on Wednesday how he felt about being outside the top eight on the Ryder Cup points list and a possible choice for captain Corey Pavin and three times – three times – he said, “I plan on playing my way onto the team.”

However, in the same presser, he admitted that he’s not practicing as much as he used to because of all the time he’s spending with his children since they don’t live in his house any longer.

So, what’s it going to be? He’s going to play his way onto the Ryder Cup team without a swing teacher and without practicing? Now who’s in belligerent denial?

After Woods’ performance, or the utter lack thereof, at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, Pavin might not be blamed for thinking about looking elsewhere for his picks. No, seriously. Tiger can’t find his backside with both hands and at Firestone he showed signs of coming absolutely un-taped.

After three rounds, he was 11-over par in an event that he has won seven times, for goodness’ sake. He was a full 18 shots behind the leader, who hadn’t started yet, when he finished his round on Saturday. He was 78th out of a field of 80, his worst position ever, and the only reason he didn’t miss the cut is because there wasn’t one.

His ball-striking is past horrible. He can’t drive it in a 10-acre field. Out of 42 fairways available in the first three rounds, he hit only 15, including only three in the second round. He hit fewer than half the greens in regulation through three rounds, 25 of 54. He made 16 bogeys and one double-bogey through 54 holes. He hasn’t played this badly since he was … well, come to think of it, he has  never, ever been this downright awful.

And as a result, he is likely to lose his world No. 1 ranking to Phil Mickelson. It’s not like we haven’t expected this, it’s just that up until this point, Mickelson hasn’t played well enough to take the top spot for his own. Now, he moves up to No. 1 by default, by virtue of Woods stinking up the joint.

What’s more is that Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 professional majors seems a whole lot safer than it did eight months ago. In January, even in the midst of the crisis, we were still thinking that this year’s majors rolled out the red carpet for Woods – Augusta National, Pebble Beach, St. Andrews and Whistling Straits. And with 14 majors to his credit already at age 34, Woods doesn’t look like he can even come close to another, much less the record.

But by far the most alarming aspect of this meltdown is that he looks as if he doesn’t care. As a result of his personal behavior that led to his impending divorce, he promised a gentler Tiger, softer and fluffier. But in the bargain, he appears to have lost his give-a-rip. And that’s troublesome.

We could forgive the occasional f-bomb in front of the kiddies in exchange for the best golf anyone has ever seen. If his personal life is on a higher plane, it has come at the expense of his golf game.

And maybe he doesn’t care as much as he used to. Perhaps his priorities are different and who are we to tell someone how to live his life, glass houses and all that. But what he can do is come clean. Tell us, Tiger – honestly – that golf doesn’t mean the same thing to you that it did in 2000 and that goals and ambitions come from another sense of accomplishment than mere trophies.

Just don’t keep trying to fool us into thinking that we can have the old Tiger back. That Tiger seems worlds away and a lifetime ago.


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