Tiger, Tiger, blowing up bright

We may learn an awful lot about Tiger Woods in the upcoming weeks, even more than we thought we did last winter.

This weekend’s debacle at Bridgestone taught us a few things. Apparently, when Tiger is in the process of shooting his worst weekend of golf as a professional, he’ll do things his legions of fans have never seen before — like give up.

Part of the reason he closed out his tournament at 18 over par and 30 shots behind winner Hunter Mahan was because he was flailing — first while trying, then while just trying to get away. To see him walk up to a shot and hit it without sizing it up from every angle, or even giving it a second thought, was amazing. To see him do it multiple times was even more shocking.

Tiger Woods is coming off his worst showing as a pro and looks like anything but the No. 1 player in the world, even though he still is for now.

He didn’t talk to the media until after the final round, and admitted then he’s not having fun. Well duh, as you say, shooting 18-over is never fun. Neither is all the stuff he’s going through in his personal life, the divorce that can’t be a surprise considering he brought it on himself with his extramarital dalliances.

But the golf course, or any field a professional athlete has performed on, has always been the refuge of those who try to escape their off-the-field issues. It’s where they’re most comfortable, the place where they truly belong and can forget about all the distractions and get down to business.

But Tiger did anything but, and this past weekend was just the most glaring example. The thought that he’s shot just two rounds under par in his last 17 on the course is hard to comprehend, and that he stands 85th on the money list this year is part of the result. CBS, which usually only televises the final few hours that involve those in contention, has to be sweating over the fact that it hasn’t had him on a final-round telecast in two months.

It seems like a break from the game might be in order, but he’s committed to some upcoming tournaments, including this week’s PGA Championship — which is often one of the highest-scoring tournaments on the calendar and isn’t likely to do wonders for his confidence. The last time he shot four rounds over par was at the 2003 PGA.

But would a break even help at this point? Maybe so, considering how lost and unhappy he looked at a course he’s dominated over the years. He’ll probably get one come October, since Corey Pavin would be hard-pressed to include him on the Ryder Cup roster with his recent play and current mental state.

I find it odd that so many people are worried about whether he’ll be part of the Ryder Cup team. That would seem to be the least of his concerns with everything else going on, and it looks like the team would be better off without him right now. Sure it might seem shocking to say, but the mental state he’s shown on the course isn’t one that seems ready for the demands of the jingoistic us vs. them showdown to take place in Wales in two months’ time.

I’ve never been a big fan of Tiger, as I’ve rarely been a fan of the favorite, of anyone who makes the outcome seem predetermined and seldom lets anyone get a win in edgewise. In some bizarre way, maybe this is good for him. He’s just finished doing something that almost every other pro golfer has done at one point or another in his career — put together a terrible tournament. The fact that it was at one of the rare tournaments without a cut only exacerbated the situation, forcing him to play four rounds instead of what would easily have been only two almost any other week.

This, far more than the scripted admission and apology and all the other carefully controlled aspects of his public attempts at redemption, prove he’s actually a human being after all. That’s what I wanted to see more than anything, that he’s more than the trophy-claiming automaton he’s seemed for so much of his career. Now he can better understand how the other half — heck, just about the rest of the tour — lives.

The scene in the post-tournament press conference where a media member said he and many of his colleagues were surprised by Tiger’s performance, but just as surprised that Tiger wasn’t, was telling. When asked why, Tiger quickly responded, “It’s been a long year.”

It looks like that year might get longer before it’s over. But when it is, maybe Tiger will be more prepared to take on the 2011 season — and the rest of his life.

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