Commentary

Tiger goes down in flames at Firestone

Originally Published: August 8, 2010
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

AKRON, Ohio --Tiger Woods was already in Wisconsin on Sunday afternoon by the time Hunter Mahan was being handed the trophy for winning the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

Firestone Country Club, a place Woods loves, could not be in his rearview mirror fast enough, his private jet soaring out of Ohio faster and sooner than ever.

Woods, coming off his worst performance as a professional golfer, joked that he could get to Whistling Straits -- site of this week's PGA Championship -- play a practice round and still watch the end of the tournament where he just bombed, so early was his dew-sweeping tee time.

Mahan won the tournament Woods has owned, shooting a final-round 64 at Firestone to lock up a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. He beat Woods by a whopping 30 shots overall, meaning he could have given the most accomplished player of this generation 3 strokes a side and still won.

Woods, who shot 77 during the final round, had four straight rounds over par, leading to a slew of negative "accomplishments" that will remain difficult to comprehend.

A glance at Woods' scorecard tells only part of the story.

It is no stretch to surmise that the turmoil in Woods' personal life is taking its toll, that the fallout from his very public indiscretions and the repercussions are causing enough distress to make playing a game nearly impossible.

Woods, without elaborating, said as much Sunday.

"It's been a long year," he said.

Still, who saw this coming?

His game is in tatters along with his reputation, and the thought was that getting back along the fairways would be his salve. Unfortunately, Woods can't find a fairway. He hit just 22 of 56 for the week at Firestone, and that is only the start of his problems.

He hit indifferent iron shots -- including a semi-shank during Saturday's third round -- and couldn't save himself around the greens. And it started from the first hole on Thursday.

Woods hit a tee shot in the left rough, tried to hook his approach and saw it come up short in a bunker. He barely gave his sand shot a moment's thought, blasted out well short, never studied the putt, and needed 2 strokes for a bogey.

It looked as if the guy didn't want to be here, body language offering several clues if his words were not as clear.

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods
Allan Henry/US PresswireTiger Woods shot all four rounds over par at a tournament for the first time since the 2003 PGA Championship and shot three of his worst scores in 48 rounds at Firestone this week.

When he opened the tournament with a 74, Woods seemed as though he didn't see it coming. He had hit the ball better in his previous two tournaments. He expected more. "This is not indicative of the way I've been playing," he said.

By Sunday, he was saying something different. Asked if the performance shocked him, Woods said. "No, no. ... It doesn't surprise me at all, actually."

Asked later why he was not surprised, Woods was again brief, repeating an earlier refrain: "It's been a long year."

Read into that what you want, but this is clearly not the same Tiger Woods with the steely resolve, the unwavering mental powers, the skills to make your jaw drop.

If you look at his golf year in total, where are the Tiger moments? The opening-round 68 at Augusta National might be the most impressive thing he's done all year, given all the hype and attention associated with his return to the game.

The back-nine 31 during the third round of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach that included the smoked 3-wood second shot to the par-5 18th seemed to portend the old Tiger, giving him a 66 that smelled like victory was near.

But since that day, Woods has broken par just once in 13 rounds -- a 67 during benign conditions at St. Andrews. Since the first round of the British Open, Woods has shot seven straight rounds over par.

"He's obviously going through tough stretches because his personal life has hurt his golf game," said Anthony Kim, who played with Woods on Sunday. "It's obviously not where he wants to be. But he's a tough guy. He's the most mentally tough guy you're going to meet, and I think he'll be fine.

"It's just a matter of time before golf becomes a priority to him again and he starts grinding and he starts winning golf tournaments."

Given what was witnessed here, it's hard to imagine Woods finding his game along Lake Michigan in Wisconsin.

Another break might seem in order to get his head and heart back into the game, but Woods interrupted a question on the subject. "I don't know, I'm just going to be ready for Thursday," he said, noting the starting date for the PGA.

Woods admitted that the way he played this week he would not be deserving of a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team, but also pointed out that there is time to right his game.

Then again, having dropped to 119th in FedEx Cup points, he is barely among the top 125 who qualify for the first playoff event, The Barclays, which is in three weeks.

Woods would then need to jump into the top 100 in order to qualify for the second event, the Deutsche Bank Championship. If not, the FedEx Cup's defending champion would be sitting out the series' final three events.

"It's very surprising," Steve Stricker said. "But you know, in this game, you need to give total attention and focus. We all know he's got a lot of other things going on in his life right now, and the game of golf is hard for him right now."

Woods can take small consolation in remaining No. 1 in the world, with Phil Mickelson failing in spectacular fashion over the weekend, needing to play the last two rounds in just 3 under to finish among the top four and become No. 1 for the first time.

Instead, he shot 9 over, which might be amusing to Woods if he didn't have so many troubles of his own. He held off Lefty, in spite of himself.

So Woods will be No. 1 for a remarkable 270th consecutive week dating to 2005, a distinction that seems as hollow right now as the look on his face.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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