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Woods might have to settle for mediocrity from now on

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Listen to Tiger Woods, and it's simple. His swing is a work in progress, he's working hard at it, and it won't be long before he leaves golf tournaments with more than just some gas money for his private jet.

Tiger Woods walks off the green after losing to Thomas Bjorn during the first round of the Match Play Championship earlier in the week. An errant tee shot on the first extra hole cost Woods.   Elaine Thompson/AP Photo
Elaine Thompson/AP Photo
Tiger Woods walks off the green after losing to Thomas Bjorn during the first round of the Match Play Championship earlier in the week. An errant tee shot on the first extra hole cost Woods.

Watch Woods play and you wonder what fantasy world he's living in.

He used to hit shots that would leave his fellow pros awe-struck. Now he hits shots no self-respecting professional golfer would ever admit to.

He once won tournaments simply by showing up on the first tee. Now Woods seems relieved just to get off the first tee without embarrassing himself.

Things have gotten so bad that Thomas Bjorn had to give him a pep talk on the final green the other day after another Woods meltdown ended with him being unceremoniously bounced from the Match Play Championship in Arizona.

Woods was so upset afterward he stumbled over the few words he had to say before heading home, probably a good thing because there were plenty of young players waiting who surely would have trounced him had he somehow made it past the first round. Just imagine how the former greatest player in the world might have felt if 17-year-old Matteo Manassero, of Italy, had sent him packing.

While we're in the imagination mode, who would have imagined the great Tiger Woods being reduced to the would ofs and could ofs that weekend golfers always use to describe what might have been?

"Two easy up-and-downs, a putt I should make at 17, a ball I should put in play on 19," Woods said. "It would have been a different story."

Unfortunately for Woods the story is a familiar one.

He can still hit the kind of shots he used to hit, but they come less frequently and seem to surprise Woods when they do. The bad ones, though, are simply awful, like the 3-wood off the tee on the first extra hole that flew straight into the desert and cost Woods his match against Bjorn.

His former swing coach couldn't resist lobbing what was arguably a cheap shot at Woods after that one.

"For all the talk of Tiger's poor driving the last six years I have never seen him drive it out of play with a match or tournament on the line," Hank Haney tweeted.

On a Golf Channel roundtable, NBC analyst Johnny Miller managed in just one breath to compare Woods to both Mike Tyson and Humpty Dumpty.

"It's a little bit like a Mike Tyson story to be honest with you -- sort of invincible, scared everybody, performed quickly under pressure -- until Buster Douglas came along," Miller said. "Tiger sort of hit that and it's life. And his life crumbled. It's like Humpty Dumpty, on a high wall way above the other players. He had a great fall and there are pieces all over the place. He's trying to put them together. It's a tough thing."

I don't doubt Woods will win again. But I don't see him winning the way he used to win, and I don't think there's any way he wins five more majors to break the record held by Jack Nicklaus.

No, the greatest player of his era will have to adjust to a new normalcy. For Woods, that may be even tougher than figuring out his new swing.


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