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Tiger Woods: His life fell apart, and now so has his game

Tiger Woods and caddie Steve Williams walk up the 16th hole during a practice round for the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. Woods is coming off his worst tournament finish as a pro.
Tiger Woods and caddie Steve Williams walk up the 16th hole during a practice round for the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. Woods is coming off his worst tournament finish as a pro. (Charlie Neibergall)

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010; 9:24 PM

It has been more than two years since Tiger Woods has won a major golf championship. He has never gone this deep into a season without winning a tournament of some kind. Just last week he finished a tournament tied for 79th out of 80 golfers in driving accuracy. The only thing Tiger did worse than drive the ball was putt it. Tiger Woods has made about as many putts this summer as Ickey Woods.

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So "What's Wrong with Tiger?" has become the No. 1 question in sports. And the answer is pretty darned simple: His life fell apart.

It has been a hot mess since Thanksgiving night when word of his dalliances became to trickle out, and it could be for a while longer. He lost, for all practical purposes, his wife, his family life as he knew it, his peace and quiet and everything that went with it, including his athletic precision and whatever competitive advantages he had held over his peers for more than a decade.

Some folks looked at his pair of fourth-place finishes at the Masters and the U.S. Open as proof he wasn't that far off form, but Tiger knew better, even as he was scrambling and hustling to contend. That's why he said Tuesday, "I thought I would have been here a little bit sooner, with all that's going on."

By "here," Tiger meant rock bottom, that hellish destination that describes not only the level of golf he has played this summer, but almost certainly his personal life as well.

Not only is it no longer a given that Tiger will surpass Jack Nicklaus's career major championship total of 18, it's not even a given he can make the cut this week at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.

And Tiger's losing is golf's loss - a huge loss for which there's no Plan B. When Tiger finished tied for 78th last weekend in an 80-man field, television ratings for the Bridgestone Invitational were down 51 percent from the year before, when Tiger won the tournament and, more important, was playing during the entire television slot.

What the networks need is another iconic golfer to fall out of the heavens, and it ain't happening. So, the network executives and the tournament directors and all the sponsors sit there and pray Tiger somehow battles his way out of this.

And that's not going to happen overnight, because you don't pick up the pieces of your shattered life that easily. Yes, real life has gotten in Tiger's way before: a few years ago when his father Earl died, to be exact.

"I really took solace in going out to the golf course after my dad passed," Tiger said Tuesday, "because it brought back so many great memories growing up . . . of practicing and training and competing and giving each other the needle."

He paused and noted that this real life interruption has been much more a kick in the gut. There's nothing nostalgic about your mistresses going public or having your wife and children humiliated. "It's been a lot more difficult," Tiger said.

And those things have stopped him from concentrating on golf, which is probably as it should be because he caused the mess he's in. As gifted as Tiger Woods is, athletically, passion for practice and training are even more important to his success. And Tiger's not up to that kind of fanatical preparation right now, and hasn't been since Thanksgiving.

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