Tiger searching for his A-game
NEVER mind Whistling Straits, Tiger Woods is in dire straits for this week's US PGA Championship.
In the past nine months, we have seen Woods' off-course image shattered and his marriage wrecked by a mind-boggling sex scandal.
Yet nobody ever could have imagined that the one constant in Tiger's life, his golf game, would disintegrate as spectacularly as it did last weekend at Firestone.
Woods is still world No 1 after Phil Mickelson's hapless 78 in his closing round. However, for the first time this century, Tiger is not the bookies' favourite going into one of golf's four Majors.
Mickelson is rated at 12/1 to win a second US PGA title next Sunday, while few will be tempted to take Tiger at 14/1 after he stumbled to the worst 72-hole performance of his pro career at the WGC -- Bridgestone Invitational.
Woods was even quoted at 4/6 last night not to be on the American Ryder Cup team at Celtic Manor.
Tiger has one final chance to qualify under his own steam this week and, failing that, must rely on Corey Pavin for the first wild card of his career.
Every facet of Tiger's game deserted him at Firestone. It was shocking to watch him shoot 18-over par for 72 holes and finish 30 strokes behind first-placed Hunter Mahan on a golf course where he had won seven times.
However, even after the abject misery of his final-round 77, Woods refused to write himself out of the Ryder Cup equation.
After admitting he would not like to go to Celtic Manor "playing like this, definitely not", Tiger's old defiance shone through when asked if he would pick himself if he was captain. "I think I can turn it around," he replied.
Currently 10th in the Ryder Cup rankings as the race for the eight automatic places on the team climaxes this week, Tiger needs a top-10 finish at the US PGA and must hope the two men immediately ahead of him, Lucas Glover and Dustin Johnson, are well out of the reckoning. Pavin has until September 7 to name his four picks.
Yet given the state of his game and last week's admission that his priority is to spend time with his children right now, rather than practice, Tiger seems more likely to freewheel even further into the abyss at Whistling Straits.
"I haven't practiced as much as I used to, nor should I," said Woods. "My kids are more important."
No question, the Ryder Cup badly needs Tiger to be in Wales, as corporate tickets come flooding back on to the market, and being in a supportive team environment probably would help Woods to recover his 'A' game.
Yet the conclusion of current divorce proceedings would be most helpful.
As TV analyst David Feherty astutely observed: "There's nothing wrong with Tiger except his head is full of the slamming doors that you have when you go through a divorce -- especially when there's children involved."