- Associated Press - Saturday, August 7, 2010

The revelations that once seemed to come daily have now largely stopped. No more mistresses have stepped forward, and no more apologies are necessary.

Nine months after the secret world of Tiger Woods was laid bare, even the tabloids and celebrity websites seem to have lost interest. The only real questions left are how much his wife will get in a divorce and when she will get it.

Indeed, these should almost be good times for Woods. The worst of his humiliations are just a memory, the trips to rehab are apparently over, and even the British tabloids couldn’t beat him down at St. Andrews.

Plus he’s got millions of people who still think he’s the greatest thing to ever grace a 2-iron.

All good, except for one thing. The greatest player of our time doesn’t seem to have a clue on the golf course anymore.

His latest attempt at preserving his name and finding his game came this week in Ohio, where the best players in the world gathered for a tournament Woods has owned in the past.

There was once a day _ just last year, for example _ when Woods simply showed up at the Bridgestone Invitational, stuck a tee in the ground, and strolled his way to yet another win.

That day now seems so far, far away.

On Saturday he finished his round long before the leaders even teed off. By the time he was done he had posted his worst 54-hole score ever as a pro, and was fighting to stay out of last place.

Someone named Katsumasa Miyamoto beat him by 13 shots on this day alone. Ernie Els beat him by 11.

You can almost see the embarrassment in his face. To someone once so dominant he used to intimidate opponents, playing golf among the also-rans is as humiliating as being caught with a handful of mistresses in a Vegas hotel room.

Suddenly, his whole legacy is in as much jeopardy as his once pristine image. Once thought to be a cinch to break Jack Nicklaus’ record and be declared the greatest golfer ever, Woods has lost both his mystique and his confidence. He now goes into the final major of the season next week, where the odds are better that he will miss the cut than win the PGA Championship for a fifth time.

Unless Phil Mickelson implodes over the weekend, Woods will lose the No. 1 ranking for the first time in more than five years. Unless he suddenly finds his game on Sunday he’s headed to his worst finish since his first tournament as a pro 14 years ago.

And he’s going to be making Corey Pavin’s job as Ryder Cup captain a lot harder than Pavin ever imagined it would be.

Shockingly enough, there’s a good chance Woods won’t make the team when the points are added up at the end of the PGA Championship. Even more shocking, there’s a growing school of thought that Pavin should not make him a captain’s pick for the team that travels to Wales next month to defend the cup.

Tiger Woods not qualifying would have been unimaginable in Ryder Cups of past. Tiger Woods not being picked to play would have been utterly unthinkable.

Why all this is happening is pretty easy to understand if you watch Woods play. He sprays the ball into trees both left and right off the tee, can’t get his iron shots close, and has lost the magical putting stroke that for years enabled him to get the ball into the hole seemingly almost at will.

But the reasons behind his demise remain a mystery that Woods refuses to share with anyone outside his inner circle.

He’s 34 now, a time when the putter doesn’t always respond to commands like it did in his youth. He’s got a swing that he can’t seem to execute the same way twice in a row. And, unlike times past when he left his money matters to others when he was competing, he has to deal with lawyers who are scurrying to find ways to help him hold onto his many millions.

But there’s more. The old Woods was a practice fanatic, working on his game constantly and almost always on the range or practice green after a round to find out ways to be even better the next day.

Contrast that to Friday when he finished around noon, then almost ran for his SUV in an attempt to get away from both the media and a golf game that even he can’t seem to stomach anymore. Phil Mickelson, meanwhile, played late, then hit the range after shooting a 68.

Barring a miracle next week at Whistling Straits, Woods will go into the Masters next year without a major championship win in almost three full years. And, while he stubbornly insists things are getting better, the scorecards don’t lie when they say he’s getting worse.

Woods will be wearing his usual Sunday red when he goes out among the first groups in the final round of the Bridgestone. But that will be the only thing familiar to those who get up early enough to watch.

He’s got no chance to win, no chance to even compete. The forced smile on his face makes it look as if the fiercest competitor ever seen on the links has now basically given up on himself.

I wrote a few months back that maybe the worst thing that could happen for the public still fascinated by Woods was that he would become a mediocre player, challenging here and there but no longer able to dominate like he had in the past.

I was wrong. What’s worse is what is happening now.

His game is gone. And the increasing reality is, it may not come back.

____

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org