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It would be foolish to think that Woods can never get back to the top, maybe not as dominant as he was before, but still the player to beat. Remember, he won 14 majors in his first 12 years, and that wasn’t an accident. He was that good.

His was the one score that always mattered.

“You never had to scroll down to find it, did you?” Ian Poulter said.

The PGA Championship last year is when he first started working with Sean Foley. Progress is hard to measure because Woods took a two-month break in the winter and then went four months, last week at Firestone, before he completed a tournament.

Earlier this year, he kept saying he needed more rounds to fine tune his swing. So why not play more tournaments? “Because I have a family. I’m divorced,” Woods snapped in March. “If you’ve been divorced with kids, then you would understand.”

He is sharing parental duties with his ex-wife. The weeks that Woods signed up to be with their two children were the weeks he never played golf, which is why he said he could not play in Greensboro, N.C., in two weeks, even if that was the only way to extend his season.

Physically, he looked as strong as ever at the Bridgestone Invitational. He had too many sloppy stretches, not unusual for someone who had not played a full round of golf since the Masters.

Mentally? Emotionally? Only Woods knows.

“I think he’s found it difficult to pull his personal issues and separate them from his professional life, and I think it’s affected his game,” said Stuart Appleby, a fellow member at Isleworth. “His temperament, his patience … that’s been tested and tested and tested. He senses the public doesn’t look at him in a perfect light the way they once did.”

A PGA Tour official was talking the other day about the best shot he ever saw from Woods. There are plenty of choices. Woods chipped in for eagle from mangled rough on the 18th green in Japan to force a playoff in the 2001 World Cup. Yes, there was some luck involved. Then again, Woods had become accustomed to good fortune. The chip-in at the Masters when his ball hung on the lip for a full second. Or that 35-foot birdie putt at Kapalua to beat Ernie Els in a playoff.

He has gone from making every right move to taking every wrong turn.

Nothing is going his way.

Woods made his return to golf last week, and even while finishing 18 shots behind, he became a focal point Sunday evening. His ex-caddie Steve Williams, angry at the timing and the way Woods fired him last month, celebrated an eighth win at Firestone, this time with new boss Adam Scott.

Williams called it “the best win I’ve ever had.”

It was a direct shot at Woods, with whom Williams won 13 majors among 72 wins worldwide. Williams has pledged to write a book, although he has a non-disclosure agreement, as does most everyone who goes to work for Woods.

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