Tough to watch as once-mighty Tiger Woods vies for our sympathy

Numbing as it has been to follow the fall of Tiger Woods on the golf course, it’s been fascinating to study his demeanour off of it. The worse he plays, the more dignified he appears.

Tough to watch as once-mighty Tiger Woods vies for our sympathy

Is it a mirage?

Perhaps, but there is a sense that Woods has come to the realisation that he cannot outrun the demons that have taken hold of his golf game, that what comes with the exorcism process is facing the questions, offering explanations, venting his frustrations. In other words, cleansing his soul.

Many would suggest that the trouble with this thinking is that Woods has never been one to pour forth truth like it was tap water. He has always offered cliches and favoured talking around topics, not addressing them, and never has he embraced the concept of being warm and friendly.

Cold and removed always served him better.

Correct, all of that, but yet, when presented an opening wider than the Pacific Ocean to duck his head and decline the chance to speak, Woods put on an air of humility and allowed for his feet to be put to the coals. (Note: He did not speak with Fox TV, but he said okay to meeting the assembled media off to the side.) Woods answered the eight questions thrown at him, and while his answers again took shape around the same ol’, same ol’ — he is changing his swing, it’s a difficult process, there are going to be bumps, but he remains committed — and didn’t reveal anything new, for therapeutic reasons it’s probably good for him.

Sympathy is building, after all, and perhaps that is helping to offset the layer of resentment that has always existed — the people who for one reason or another have found joy in this fall from grace.

Never have I understood how you can receive joy from someone else’s hurt, but it’s a big world and there are people of all sorts. To these people, Woods cannot stumble far enough, cannot shoot high enough, cannot suffer enough. If he makes bogey, they want double-bogey. If he shoots 80, they want 85.

Crazy, but so, too, is it getting difficult to fathom what is going on with the artist formerly known as Tiger.

“I’m trying as hard as I can to do it,” Woods said of his adaption to a new swing. “(But) for some reason I can’t get the consistency that I’d like to have out there.” Wise men would give him the benefit of doubt, but wise guys would smirk: Woods has been consistent: consistently bad. After all, didn’t he shoot 82 (his highest score as a pro) earlier this year at the Phoenix Open, 85 (his new high) at the Memorial two weeks ago, and 80 (his highest US Open score) Thursday?

Pretty consistent from this seat, which isn’t to say it’s pretty to watch. Far from it. It’s like Monet forgetting how to paint, Gershwin to play the piano, Pavarotti to sing. Woods was a virtuoso, a once-in-a-lifetime genius, the best of his generation and to be there to chronicle every step of the way — from the first of his six straight national amateur titles in 1991 to 2008 when he won his third US Open and 14th major championship — was thrilling for someone who cherishes this game.

With Woods, we didn’t think it could get any worse than what he did at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio, two weeks ago, the day he closed out his effort with a water ball, a chili dip, and a chunk on the same hole.

But it did Thursday in the first round of the 115th US Open, the sort of big stage that Woods used to own for our viewing pleasure. Now, sadly, he only rents space to play for our sympathy.

The 80 he shot had more lowlights than a true links has bunkers, but almost as a reminder of how far this saga has fallen, the most stunning sight came at the final hole, a beefy 604-yard par 5. Having poured a 317-yard drive into the fairway, Woods stepped up with a chance to at least end on a positive note. Instead, he dug a deeper hole for his legend by topping his 3-wood.

Yes, he “topped” it, the way your cousin Eamonn would at the club’s member-guest. Woods’ shot rolled perhaps 20-25 yards into a bunker. Had Donald Trump announced to the world he was going to start being humble, we couldn’t have been more shocked. Eventually, Woods bogeyed for the ninth time, signed his card, and seemingly had the opportunity for a great escape.

Instead, Woods walked onto a small stage, stood behind a row of microphones, looked out into a dozen TV cameras and breathless reporters, and took the media’s best shot.

Thing is, like Woods, the media doesn’t seem to have any “best shots” available these days. Like Woods, we seemed stunned, still in disbelief about what we are witnessing. Questions about his health, questions about his swing changes, questions about how he is coping with the heartache of horrific golf.

American reporters got stuck on a comparison between the 39-year-old Woods of 2015 and the 42-year-old baseball legend Willie Mays in his final season, 1973, when he saddened so many by slipping and falling while patrolling center field.

It is a bad comparison, however, because baseball players are supposed to be done by 42.

Mays had announced it was his final season. Golfers, however, are often in their prime at 39 and Woods demonstrates every indication that he is in this for the long haul. If so, then he’ll need all the dignity he can muster, because as tough as it is to watch, it’s even tougher for him.

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