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Shadow Of Doubt

PEBBLE BEACH, CALIFORNIA l This isn’t the old Tiger Woods. This is the Tiger Woods who teases and frustrates. This is the Tiger Woods who gets himself into position to win but doesn’t win, in fact in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am doesn’t even finish in the top 10.
This isn’t the old Tiger Woods, and maybe it’s time to wonder if it ever will be. All he had in front of him Sunday were Charlie Wi and Ken Duke, journeymen without a victory in their years on Tour. All he had in front of him was the opportunity to prove he can still rip in a putt and rip the guts out of tournament, the way he used to do, the way we expected him to do.
Maybe it’s time to reassess our expectations.
We know what Woods has endured the past couple of years, the accident, the disclosures, the knee problems, the coaching changes. We know he’s older – if at 36, not that old – and there are doubts where there used to be confidence.
Yet, his optimism and our thoughts made it appear Tiger was right there, a putt, a good bounce away from a breakthrough, from his first win PGA Tour tournament win in U.S. since September 2009.
It was a circus Sunday at Pebble, Tiger and Phil Mickelson together, fans packing the fairways, waiting, hoping, cheering. Mickelson responded. Tiger faded. That’s not the way it used to be. Perhaps it’s the way it’s going to be.
Will Tiger win again? Probably. But not making the bogeys as he did in the final round of the AT&T, three in a row 7-8-9, and then two in a row, on 14 and 15. Not shooting 75 when Mickelson shoots 64. Not butchering the ball on the greens as if he were swinging a croquet mallet in place of a putter.
“I putted awful,” said Woods. A day earlier, on the same course, on wonderful, historic, challenging Pebble Beach, where in 2000 he won the AT&T and the U.S. Open, Tiger had a 67, with six birdies. And the anticipation was nearly palpable.
He was where he wanted to be, four shots behind winless Charlie Wi, ready to take over, ready to prove suggestions of his demise were just nonsense.
Instead, for the third time in four tournaments – the exception was his own 18-player Chevron World in which he did finish first – Tiger Woods couldn’t close the deal, couldn’t win. This time couldn’t even make it on the final leaderboard, dropping from third after 54 holes to a tie for 15th after 72.
“As good as I felt on the greens (Saturday),” said Woods, who outwardly handled the disappointment with class, “it was as bad as I did (Sunday). I made a ton of mistakes.”
Consider that sentence. Tiger Woods, eternally the No. 1 player in the world – an exaggeration, but a justifiable one – the man who made golf go, the one who is rarely guilty of a mistake, made a ton of mistakes.
After telling us he was pleased with his progress, that because finally he was healthy there was an opportunity to practice and perfect the swing being taught by Sean Foley, the situation would improve. Which it did. Until the critical last day, the day that for years Tiger always owned.
“What was frustrating,” Woods said, “was all I had to do was get off to a solid start, and I didn’t do that. Phil did it. I was hoping for a 67 or 66, although that wouldn’t have been enough. It was a fun day to be out there, but it was frustrating.”
Mickelson implied things are not as bad as some (blush!) would portray. “He’s hitting the ball well,” said Mickelson. “He’s not hooking it the way he used to do. Everything can change quickly.”
As we’re aware, from that night in November 2009, for Tiger everything changed too quickly, and not for the better. The injuries. The divorce. The media attacks. Just a few days ago, Forbes magazine – the one for the guys with big incomes – ran a poll in which Woods and Michael Vick were judged the most disliked athletes in America.
How a man who plays around a bit – well, more than a bit – can be equated with one who tortures animals is a question worthy of the value system in the country. But, unquestionably Tiger lost respect, and now he continues to lose tournaments.
This was the first time in 10 years Woods played the AT&T, with its celebrities and course rotation and occasional bad weather. The fans, so many drawn by the antics of Bill Murray or the presence of Nick Saban, often have no sense of golf etiquette, but they were careful not to disrupt Woods and his amateur partner, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.
Tiger responded well, and after a round each at Spyglass Hill, Monterey Peninsula and Pebble, he was, as he said, “where I wanted to be.”
He didn’t quite end up nowhere, but by his standards tumbling to a tie for 15th must seem almost the same.


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