Tiger Woods reaches his golfing nadir
You wanted to see a more "human" Tiger Woods, the man instead of the Nike creation, right? You wanted to see him as a mere mortal, just another person at the ground zero of his life?
Well, here he is, as lost, vulnerable and real as we've ever seen him. Pathetic has collided with tragic. Woods is now a shadow of the shadow of himself.
Whatever aura of invincibility he once had has been stripped away like paint by turpentine. Woods is in a personal and professional free fall -- and his parachute won't open.
Forget the made-for-TV public apology in February, or the supposedly cleansing news conference in April, or the sometimes terse and tense exchanges he had with the British tabloid writers at last month's Open Championship. What happened this past Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday in LeBron James' hometown of Akron, Ohio, was Woods at his most authentic.
His scores at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational were stunningly grotesque. It was like watching Aretha Franklin misspell R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
You saw the carnage: rounds of 74-72-75-77 (a combined 18 over par), a half shank, bunker flailing, stubbed chips, drives that had the trees ducking, putts so misread that the cup yelled, "Hey, I'm over here!" And they were all hit by the No. 1-ranked player in the world.
Woods played like a 22-handicapper. The fact that he still wore his traditional "victory" red shirt on Sunday only added to the absurdity. Woods couldn't win a tournament right now if it were a field of one.
But forget how he played. Instead, remember how he reacted. It was the first time I've ever seen Woods give in. Not give up -- he didn't do a John Daly and WD, or develop a sudden injury and call it a tournament -- but simply quit trying to be Tiger Woods.
Did you see his face as the horrific shots multiplied exponentially? Anger had been replaced by resignation. For once, he was no different from you and me on the course. He didn't have a clue. He looked so alone. So human.
Throughout the width and length of his entire life, Woods has always had golf. Not only had golf, but defined it, ruled it, overpowered it. Now his game is on the disabled list.
What we watched at Firestone Country Club was a man in search of his game and, more importantly, himself. In less than 10 months' time, his life has been dropped from a very tall building. There are splat marks everywhere.
The father he could turn to is gone. His wife is presumably gone. His swing coach is gone. Everywhere he turns, Woods is running out of familiar yardage markers.
He screwed up by screwing around. Human. He panicked as the sex scandal enveloped him. Human. He admitted transgressions, but struggled with full public disclosure. Human. He fought for his privacy, often clumsily and defiantly so. Human.
But the transformation from the Woods who once dictated the rules to the Woods humbled by the laws of celebrity gravity (what goes up ) is now complete. Call it what you want -- karma or fate -- but the Woods we once knew no longer exists. He has been replaced by the unsure, confused and, in some ways, more transparent Woods.
The golf course is where we've seen Woods grow up. It's where he revealed large chunks of his personality. He swore. He slammed clubs. He fist pumped. He laughed. He exulted. He cried. He hugged. He intimidated.
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But these past few days, Woods revealed a side of himself that we had rarely, if ever, witnessed. The world's most fearless golfer played, well, scared.
Imagine not being able to do what you've always done to a golf course. Imagine trying to maintain the brand of Tiger Woods when your personal life is registering a 9 on the Richter scale. Imagine being swallowed by a sinkhole on national television.
That's Woods these days. He has had just two rounds below par in his past three tournaments. He's coming off his worst performance as a pro, but perhaps his most genuine performance as a person.
Woods has lost his confidence, his swing and his reputation. He can get all three back, but it's going to take a lot more than hitting some post-round balls on the range.
The Ryder Cup? If I'm captain Corey Pavin, I don't let Woods within a U, S or A of the team. Nobody would blame Woods if he asked not to be considered for the team. Nobody would blame Pavin if he said yes to the request.
The last thing Woods needs is the possibility of a golf meltdown in October's matches. And the last thing Pavin needs is the possibility of having to bench Woods.
Let's call 2010 what it really is for Woods: a nightmare, a revelation, a lost season, a humbling experience, a humiliating experience, a time to plan for 2011.
I don't feel sorry for Woods, but I feel sad for him. He kneecapped himself with his indiscretions and now he can't even depend on his longtime best friend -- golf.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.