Tiger Woods's on-course struggles may be rooted in his problems away from the game

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 11, 2010

Such is Tiger Woods's life now that he can miss a 30-inch putt -- as he did during the second round of last week's AT&T National -- and a fan can walk away from the scene saying, with some degree of authority, "He's not right." Greater meaning can be, and will be, assigned to each stroke. Tiny moments in an insignificant round become statements on how the world's No. 1 player is holding together mentally.

That 30-inch putt, then, can be linked to, say, a 60-yard chip shot he chunked the following day, an amateur's hack.

Step back, and those strokes came in a tournament in which Woods barely made the cut and finished tied for 46th, an also-ran in a superstar's clothes.

Step back again, and that bit of mediocrity occurred in a tournament which, a year ago, he won and got to hand the trophy to himself, because he served as its host. He was relieved of that duty this year.

One more step back: Sordid details of Tiger Woods's personal life -- and his personal failings -- were first revealed eight months ago. He hasn't won since.

The questions, then, entering this week's British Open: Can those dots truly be connected? Is there a direct relationship between Woods's substandard play and his personal travails? And even if there is, how could we know?

"It's still hard for him right now," said Justin Rose, who beat Woods by 14 shots in winning the AT&T National. "I'm sure we've all had distractions in our lives and stuff like that, and to bring your best onto the golf course when you're being probably depleted in so many other areas mentally, it's difficult."

There was a point, not so terribly long ago, when Woods would have stepped to the first tee on the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland, and been the prohibitive favorite to win whatever tournament would be contested there over whatever field could be assembled. "It's the greatest golf course in the world for me," he said a couple weeks ago. Woods won the 2000 British Open on the Old Course by eight shots. He won the 2005 British Open on the Old Course by five shots. Back then, connecting the dots was easy: He loves the course; he has dominated there before; he likely will win again.

Yet over the past few months, Woods has leaned heavily on a phrase to describe his game. "It's a process," he said. The formation of this iteration of Tiger has been a process as well. He is no longer a rising star, no longer someone with more good years ahead than behind, no longer a marketing juggernaut with an unassailable image. The details of Woods's Thanksgiving night car accident, and the sundry issues it subsequently revealed about his personal life, are inarguably part of his fabric, linked to him on the course as well as off it.

"It is what it is," is one way Woods addresses his situation.

But what, exactly, is it? Statistics, in golf, aren't like those in baseball or football, where so much can be determined by poring over charts. Yet the statistics, where Woods is concerned this year, are stark.

He has not won any of the six events he has entered; he last played six straight times without a victory in 2004, when he was undergoing a swing change. In those six tournaments, consisting of 21 complete rounds (he withdrew in the middle of the final round at the Players Championship because of a neck injury), he is a combined 8 under par -- or .4 of a stroke below par per round. In those same six events a year ago, he was a combined 47 under par, or 1.96 strokes under on average per round.

CONTINUED     1              >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company