Tiger Woods is suddenly more legend than threat

A common sight Thursday: Tiger Woods hitting from the gallery after missing the fairway with his tee shot. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Here's a common sight in Thursday's PGA opening round: Tiger Woods hitting from the gallery after missing the fairway with his tee shot. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

On those occasions when he managed a good shot, the applause was warm, not explosive, as if Jack Benny were delivering some old punch line you’ve heard a hundred times.

On those occasions when somebody yelled his name, it came in an almost pleading tone, like when a young boy near the seventh tee said with almost tears dripping from words, “Come on, Tiger.” Tiger Woods walked past him – then hit his ensuing tee shot into the bunker.

It has been 23 months since Tiger Woods won a tournament. It has been 39 months since he has won a major. There is a point when you start to realize, he never is going to be Tiger Woods again.

That doesn’t mean he’ll never win another event. But after watching Woods implode in the opening round of the PGA on Thursday, firing a cartoon-like eight bogeys (including three doubles) over his final 13 holes, this would be a good time to cease any lingering assumptions about his return to greatness.

He is not the same player. Everybody on the course knows it, most in the galleries know it and somewhere down deep maybe even he knows it. The problem is not that Woods was compared to the greats like Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer from such an early age. The problem is, that’s who he is now. Players are starting to look at him as more legend than threat.

It’s not the knee. It’s not the Achilles. It’s not the fact that he has fired swing coaches and caddies. When your name is Tiger Woods and you shoot a 7-over 77 in the opening round of a major, it’s about what’s inside the cranium.

Last week he finished tied for 37th at the no-cut Bridgestone Invitational. At one point, he complained that he was “hitting it too flush.” What does that even mean?

On Thursday at the Atlanta Athletic Club, he started on the back nine and was 3 under through five holes. But he said he was playing “mechanical,” so he decided to loosen up, and that’s when things fell apart.

Really? Let’s break down Woods’ self-analysis. First, he was playing solid. But he said he didn’t like the way he felt so he changed. “I figured I was 3 under and could start letting it go and could play by instinct and feel, and I screwed up my whole round.”

Question: Was there not a point when he was shooting 10 over par in 13 holes when Woods thought he should get “mechanical again?”

Or can we just call this what it is? The guy just isn’t that good over 18 holes anymore. Certainly not over 72. We have to stretch the memory to recall the last time he sank a significant putt.

Here's the color of Tiger's Sunday shirt, should he be playing that day.

Here's Tiger's Sunday shirt, should he be playing that day.

When Woods goes double bogey-bogey-par-double bogey-bogey-bogey-par-bogey, it’s not because new caddie Bryon Bell is handing him the wrong club.

Perception has changed on the course. Young players don’t fear him the way competitors used to. It’s like comparing how Mike Tyson was viewed before Evander Holyfield humiliated him twice and after. That’s not saying Woods and Tyson are similar grease fires. It’s more about whether competitors are still intimidated by Woods – and they’re not.

Perception also has changed off the course. Athletes can go either way after public humiliation. Few, if any, have had their personal life unravel like Woods. He went from the perfect family with the perfect wife to TMZ on steroids.

Nobody would ever look at Woods the same. He had to know that. He hasn’t won a tournament since he had an argument with wife, Elin, and crashed his Escalade into a tree outside his Orlando home in November 2009, leading to the public circus.

He hit into the water three times Thursday. He hit into the sand a dozen more. It was Woods’ worst opening round in any major. It was his worst PGA round ever. He may not make the cut.

The folks in the AAC gift shop were a tad presumptuous. They posed mannequins in four colored shirts — pink, blue, white, red — with a “Tiger Woods” credential hanging around the neck. The colors corresponded to Woods’ fashion plans for the tournament’s four days. Oops.

“I’m not down — I’m really angry right now,” he said later. “There’s a lot of words I can use beyond that.”

On the course, he did.

It used to be the profanity on the course was overlooked because he won. Now, it merely illustrates the man’s frustrations. And there’s no sign of that ending.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

167 comments Add your comment

Shocked!!

August 11th, 2011
5:08 pm

He needs to call Butch Harmon NOW!!

Ted M

August 11th, 2011
5:24 pm

will the galleries be following him tomorrow or the leaders? How bout you?

sidslid

August 11th, 2011
5:28 pm

The tournament is not sold out and now we get Steve Stricker as standardbearer for the weekend. Still not sure how that “Martin Kaymer wins the 2010 PGA Championship!” ad just didnt’ draw 50,000 to Johns Creek, wherever Johns Creek is.

lawzoo

August 11th, 2011
5:29 pm

FIRST ! or close enough to throw a rock at it. Stick a fork in Tiger…he’s done. (I just made that up)

Michael

August 11th, 2011
5:32 pm

He already called Butch Harmon … he turned him down … he has moved on … as we all should …

Don

August 11th, 2011
5:33 pm

Jeff Schultz has Tiger Woods covered but apparently doesn’t realize anybody else is playing, as it’s his second Tiger piece of the day and he doesn’t even name another golfer in the field in this piece. Could the AJC send another reporter to AAC to cover the golf tournament, preferably somebody who plays golf well enough to break 90 and knows something about the game? I mean it’s the PGA, one of the 4 majors.

Don

August 11th, 2011
5:42 pm

OK I see now. The AJC has the secondary story of the day, Steve Stricker tying the all-time major championship scoring record with a 63. It’s good they have a contract with the Associated Press.

ted williams head

August 11th, 2011
5:46 pm

he still knows how to play. its gonna take some time but if he wants it enough he will be back

Jeff Schultz

August 11th, 2011
5:48 pm

Don — A little patience, chum. We have four writers and two photographers here today. Everything and everybody will be covered.

Stevereeno

August 11th, 2011
5:49 pm

He’s got rich athletes dease,…..more money than he can ever spend and working for it isn’t all that important anymore. But he still feels obligated to the sport.

He’d rather be somewhere else.

Stevereeno

August 11th, 2011
5:52 pm

Sorry – disease.

Reid Adair

August 11th, 2011
6:07 pm

What? Not the same Tiger Woods?!?!?!?

How on Earth is that possible, given how much the media has been telling us that he’s back to claim the majors record and everything else?

Sonny Clusters

August 11th, 2011
6:11 pm

Can you get a good pimento cheese sandwich at the PGA? When we was playing golf we got to play there (AAC) some and we know that you can scuff a green in a heartbeat. The biggest thing to remember is that the ball falls in the cup when it passes over the cup and not everybody can roll it over the cup like Tiger used to. If you go in the room with the big trophy and turn left when you come out and walk in the first room with the nice furniture that is where we were when Stinky Wintes paid off his bet to us for our round of golf together. The Wintes are big at the AAC and they should be. They can swim anytime whether the pool is open or closed.

Sonny Clusters

August 11th, 2011
6:16 pm

One time we made the mistake of clearing our throat and spitting a little phlegm on the golf course there. Suddenly and without warning we was wrestled to the ground (just missing the phlegm) and roughed up some and then we was asked to leave. Well, we never! Nobody treats a Clusters that way. We went on down the street to the Dairy Queen and ordered a sundae with double hot fudge and nuts and felt sorry for ourselves. Life is like that.

Don

August 11th, 2011
6:17 pm

Since Tiger is the subject here, TNT just put up the scores of the PGA club pros in the field and over half of them beat Tiger today. Unfortunately, Tiger probably doesn’t have that occupation to fall back on if his game doesn’t recover, because few private clubs or public golf courses want an a-hole as head pro.

Big Brain

August 11th, 2011
6:19 pm

The guy dominated for a decade. He has plenty of time to get things together he is only 36 Jeff. No other bum on the tour has been as consistent. Give me a break.

BobDawg

August 11th, 2011
6:28 pm

Over/Under at Vegas already has Stevie as a bigger bet to win more money for the 2nd week in a row than Tigger.

Beast from the East

August 11th, 2011
6:28 pm

He accomplished more in 10 years than any other golfer has in their entire career other than Jack. I think anyone that writes him off while he is still in his 30’s is just being fooilsh or a hater. He more than likely will not return to his “glory days”, but I still think he wins enough majors to pass Jack and be considered the best golfer ever. Is his personal life a mess? Yes, but so were many other sports icons of the past…..they just didn’t have to deal with the 24/7 world-wide media scrutiny. He’s good for the game and I, for one, hope he comes back and quiets all of his critics.
Now, let the haters start hatin’!

BobDawg

August 11th, 2011
6:30 pm

If Stevie is a stockbroker… He just made the right purchase just in time..Adam Scott is going to win tons more than Tigger going forward…

BobDawg

August 11th, 2011
6:31 pm

@Beast… Schultz said it best…. He can’t even string 4 rounds together now… He had a decent 1st round at Bridgestone and than imploded just like today…

Beast from the East

August 11th, 2011
6:32 pm

BobDawg,
You may be right, but I heard Tiger still brought in over $70,000,000 last year. Not bad for a “has-been”, huh?

blazer

August 11th, 2011
6:33 pm

The young guys don’t worry about him any and some of the older must now now!

Beast from the East

August 11th, 2011
6:35 pm

BobDawg,
No doubt he’s not on his game, but I wouldn’t bet against him making a pretty strong comeback next year. I suspect he’ll be back in contention next spring at Augusta. If not, then maybe he truly has lost it. He just needs some time to get his game back in order, in my opinion. Heck, I’ve been trying to get a rythym down with my swing for 30 years! LOL!

John Galt

August 11th, 2011
6:38 pm

I suppose he cdould one day turn it around, but Tiger screwed up his life, not just his golf game. From what the public can see, he seems to be out of control in every area of his life. I’ve often seen in my life men you discard everything they represent, and I have never seen a career survive and seldon saw it recover.

We found that Woods appears to be hedonistic and unfocused- and golf requires more discipline and concentration than most careers. It does not look promising for the man.

gcs

August 11th, 2011
6:42 pm

Maybe Tiger should just join the Senior Tour where there is no pressure and people can still gawk at him.

.

Cheesehead

August 11th, 2011
6:43 pm

Jeff has it right on…One Word…Cranium…Tiger will never win a Major AGAIN!…We like the Double Fudge Sundae with Nuts from the Dairy Queen!

BobDawg

August 11th, 2011
6:43 pm

Beast,
I’m glad he is healthy and I do hope he contends but I’m not sold on his latest “coach”.. I think this guy is more snake oil salesman and I will believe it when I see it… I played tennis at UGA years ago and never would have tried to change my swing or serve. small tweaks , yes but a major overhaul like he keeps doing.. No way… Can you imagine if Federer decided to change is forehand???

Skeezix

August 11th, 2011
6:43 pm

No matter how good your mechanics are, you can’t play excellent golf on your local public course with the guys if your head is screwed up, much less the PGA tour — so there is no way he will ever win on the PGA tour until he gets his head fixed. I hope he does. I have followed him at a US Open and British Open when he was #1 and his game/shot making was absolutely amazing. My brothers and I watched him hit a shot out of a fairway bunker at Pinehurst, with a poor lie, little room to clear the lip of the bunker, uphill 165 yards to a ridiculously fast turtle back green and he knocked it within 20 feet of the pin and held it there with enough backspin to keep it from rolling off. To us it was an amazing shot but to Tiger at that time it was probably pretty routine.

oracle

August 11th, 2011
6:45 pm

Tiger woods is the epitome of golf in the true sense of the word…child prodigy….has no peers…except ……..himself……..”if your not right up there..you aint gonna be right anywere”….I hope tiger regains his game…feared and revered by most…….but im a true believer of karma ..you “reap what you sow”….Hopefully its just a matter of time!!

DHD

August 11th, 2011
6:46 pm

How many Tiger articles are y’all going to do? Is he playing this tournament by himself?????

Cheesehead

August 11th, 2011
6:46 pm

Who was it that said Golf is 99% Between the Ears (Cranium) and the other 1% is Mental (Cranium)?

BobDawg

August 11th, 2011
6:47 pm

…. Maybe he needs a bigger dose of humble pie so he starts treating folks better… I still can’t stand his one word answers in the press conferences… He is losing sponsers faster than a stripper loses her clothes with his attitude….

Beast from the East

August 11th, 2011
6:47 pm

BobDawg,
Yeah, I get what you’re saying. I’ve always been told that it takes a solid year to completely change your swing. That’s for pros that play everyday. Not a real bright decision, but maybe he felt he needed to change it to reduce the torque on his knee? Who knows, but I do miss watching him play at his best. It was an awesome sight!

BobDawg

August 11th, 2011
6:49 pm

You know Phil Mickelson won everything as a Jr Golfer… He dominated like Tiger did the tour in his Jr. days… Now he flashes the smile and endorsements just keep rolling in no matter how bad he plays…

Beast from the East

August 11th, 2011
6:49 pm

BobDawg,
Honestly, how cordial would you be to the media after all he’s been through? I know most of it was self-inflicted, but you would still be bitter as heck, wouldn’t ya?

Erin

August 11th, 2011
6:59 pm

I feel bad for Tiger Woods. He hasn’t recovered from the hit. It’s true it’s about what’s inside the cranium. For this reason I cannot write him off because that can be changed in an instant! And I hope he will. I know we could all use a second chance in this life. By the way Jeff I like your writing style. Bravo!

Cat Fan

August 11th, 2011
7:03 pm

Tiger will get through this turmoil and sail through Jack’s record…… and I have a picture of me and Jack on the wall!!

A friend of mine hates Tiger and he already says “well, Tiger will never breaks Jack’s records for second place finishes in majors!!! Who cares about 2nd place finishes?

Nobody cares about the fighters that come in 2nd or Super Bowl runner-ups or World Series runner-ups—————-Give me a break!

This guy is MJ of the golfing world and will re-invent himself whether the ditractors like it not,,,,watch and see.

dbc

August 11th, 2011
7:04 pm

I doubt if he’ll ever win another major, and for that I’m glad. I hated the fact he could break Jack’s major record. Not because I dislike Tiger — I actually have rooted for him many times. He made watching golf fun again. Nothing compares to the extra round between Tiger and Rocco at Torrey Pines. The difference has always been Jack represented the game with class while Tiger represented it like an entitled punk. He had it all, and it wasn’t enough. Now that Tiger has shown his true stripes, I hope he never wins again. Karma can get you anytime…

bill

August 11th, 2011
7:17 pm

I feel sorry for Tiger like alot of people he threw happiness away with both hands. He will never be the same. He lost an adoring wife and children. She so broken hearted she hates him now. Is there any doubt that some of his health problems are related to her bashing him with a niblick? Tiger lost his mentors in Harmon and Williams and his dad. Williams stood by Tiger but Tiger is like Bill Clinton you can be a FOT( friend of Tiger) but only as long as it is his relationship to control. Staevie is wealthy erin is wealthy ,Hell Harmon and Tiger’s mom have more money than Caesar but who can Tiger really talk to as an equal. After awhile even mega egos have to talk to someone.

techfan

August 11th, 2011
7:20 pm

Will Tiger ever be as good as he was? No. I can still see him making a good comeback though and winning again. I think his story is far from over.

bill

August 11th, 2011
7:21 pm

I was watching the Tahoe open last week and saw Rocco Mediate laying down in the fairway while he waited for his next shot. It makes you wonder who really won that day at Torrey Pines…Everybody loves Rocco.

Gordon

August 11th, 2011
7:21 pm

I just wouldn’t be too sure yet. He only came back last week. If he can stay healthy, I think he will be back. I can’t see him dominating again, but I think he can be #1 again and can break Jack’s record. But he must stay healthy. He’s still on Jack’s pace even if he doesn’t win another major for 3 more years.

Jeff, you are a fine writer and I respect your work, but I can tell from this that you don’t know that much about golf. Not because of your opinion about Tiger, but other things you wrote. But that’s okay, you know the big sports well.

The Nature Boy

August 11th, 2011
7:28 pm

Tiger isn’t dangerous..?? ummm what if I’m his neighbor and I have a hot, white or latino wife..??? just sayin….

sports

August 11th, 2011
7:30 pm

It all comes down to the driver with him…and he ain’t got it. When he stands on the tee he doesn’t have a clue. You would think with all the swing coaches out there and the equipment he could find a driver he could hit straight. His downswing is so steep, there’s know way he can hit it straight. That lunge from the top will only get worse…he should be swinging the driver with a slight upswing.

Worm

August 11th, 2011
7:32 pm

He’s a “ceremonial” player like John daly…Couldn’t happen to a “Nicer” guy!..But, he sure had the world fooled for a long time..Can’t wait for Steve williams book.

Whopper Dawg

August 11th, 2011
7:37 pm

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Whopper Dawg

August 11th, 2011
7:38 pm

I feel for him not.

Beast from the East

August 11th, 2011
7:39 pm

“He’s a “ceremonial” player like John daly…Couldn’t happen to a “Nicer” guy!..But, he sure had the world fooled for a long time..Can’t wait for Steve williams book.”

Worm,
Hate to be the one to tell you this but that just smacks of “penis envy”. Hate a guy because he cheated on his wife? If I were a betting man, I would wager that 75% of pro athletes do it.

Cat Fan

August 11th, 2011
7:41 pm

I wish all of the negative nits on here would have to be back on here when he regains his world class form and staus as number one

Cat Fan

August 11th, 2011
7:48 pm

Somebody please take my bet on whether he breaks Jack’s record. I”ll be in the ATL around Christmas and we can find a mutual “friend” to hold the money. I’ll give 2 to 1 odds that he breaks Jack’s record and cover up to $1000.
Please put your money where your mouth is……..and as I said I have a picture of me and Jack on the wall from Hawaii.