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Tormented Tiger hopes affinity with Old Course and new putter can rekindle dreams

IT'S OVER. Tiger Woods confirmed it. The separation is complete; the trust lost, the bond broken, the disloyalty irrecoverable. The world No1 has a fresh model in his hands.

But enough of his new putter or, indeed, of his staggering discarding of the old implement which in a 12-year relationship helped him win more than $90m, more than 70 titles and 13 majors. Yet again the media wanted to know about his private life, about the shame, about the collapse of his world and, yes, his aura. Yet again the media went home disappointed.

The rumours remain just that -- rumours. The circle of deceit remains open-ended. When Woods tees off in the Champions' Challenge this evening he will do so without spectators knowing whether that particular champion is still married or not. Will the spectators really care? Who cares if they care? The destruction of Mr Indestructible is just too irresistible not to report.

Woods cannot escape it, although these next few days at least offer him a pathway to some light. The trouble is he can't yet see it through all the scrutiny, through all the shame and, worst of all, through all the distraction which has undoubtedly blighted his game. The Tiger Woods of 2010 is unrecognisable from the Tiger Woods of 2005 and the Tiger Woods of 2000. That golfer stood so tall and so proud in the Kingdom of Fife soon to be renamed the Kingdom of Tiger. In truth, no golfer had ever looked so at home in the Home of Golf.

But now he appears lost, walking around the suddenly unfamiliar confines searching for some answers. If anybody is still of the opinion that the scandal has not affected him, then consider that a fortnight after changing his ball-type he is now changing the club he has loved more than any other.

"It's invaluable," he said just before the 2005 Open here. "It is irreplaceable. I've tried other putters and some of the putters do feel better than mine. But coming down the stretch on Sunday and I know I need to make a putt, I know this putter has done it."

Even his marital vows sounded loose compared to that oath. But then, that tried and tested putter, his "gamer", has become just the latest thing in his life to depart. Of the old Woods, only the management and the caddie are the same. And yesterday's comments by the latter have led many to predict that another Tiger relationship is soon to reach its sudden conclusion.

For now, however, Woods must rush to discover the solution; and do so in an atmosphere he is plainly finding uncomfortable. On the seventh yesterday, photographers heard him mutter to Mark O'Meara: "I'm sick of all this stuff with the public."

He has tried to engage them and insists he is still trying. But the reality suggests he has all but given up. At the Masters, he spent the first three days tipping his hat and smiling. For the last two days of practice he has missed out the first and the 18th. No doubt that has something to do with the convenience of staying in the Old Course Hotel by the side of the 17th. But in terms of his stated mission to interact with the crowd it has hardly helped. The opening and last holes are where most fans are massed.

When he left the press centre here yesterday Woods did actually stop to sign a few autographs. Yet the words of his friend O'Meara hinted at how much it rankled. "That's always a thing he battles with," said the 1998 Open champion.

"If he signs two or three young people's autographs, but he doesn't get to them all, then he's not so good."

And therein lies the hell for Woods. He feels trapped in the superstardom of his own making, although only now does he notice the walls. For 20 minutes yesterday, his eyes looked more joyless than perhaps they ever have in that hated pre-tournament conference. It was his first inquisition on British soil since the fire hydrant bust forth its sordid revelations and he was careful not to come across as surly as he did at the US Open. Then he snapped at a British journalist who dared ask about the divorce: "That's none of your business." Now it was: "I'm not going to go into that." It was another way of saying nothing and many will ask why should he?

In fairness, Woods can't win. If he does say nothing they call him evasive; if he says anything they plonk his statements of self-improvement next to all of his lies.

The hope for his backers is that his affinity with this Old Course will rekindle the brilliance. He is certainly pinning much of his own faith in such a turnaround. "I haven't gone this long into a season without winning," he said. "It's a matter of going out there and putting it together."

If he can and does, he will become the first player ever to win three Opens at St Andrews.

But plenty is stacked against Woods; his form, his image, his psyche. In desperation he has run off with a new putter and it will be fascinating to see how it fares. Of course, there is a clear and present danger that this perceived panic move could lead to yet more ridicule. On the press benches it already has. So one American journalist quipped yesterday. "Tiger's said he's only used this putter for the last 12 years. Is there 120 we don't know about?"

That's where Woods is right now. Rooted in the punchline.