By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) If you want to enjoy the spectacle of Tiger Woods's current misery, go ahead. I get it.
It's completely understandable that any number of observers relish the crumbling game of one of the all-time greats, especially after his carefully crafted public persona was destroyed by land mines of embarrassment that he had planted himself. He had been asking for it, after selling an image that wasn't real.
The golf was, though, and that had made leaderboard-watching something different and special for almost two decades. There was an understanding of historical importance that energized the entire enterprise of caring about sports in the first place – knowing it mattered more and trying to appreciate it in real time. Outside of all the marketing and branding, there was a man against the course achieving things on an unprecedented trajectory to become the unquestioned best ever at a remarkably difficult job.
But then the bimbo eruptions and the various physical problems started a series of recovery/relaunch cycles that keep fizzling sadly. Woods announces a return, we hear about whatever new coach he has and some remodeled swing, and then nothing good happens. Rinse and repeat.
While I admit to being a connoisseur of schadenfreude, I'm just not feeling it when it comes to Woods. We're well past that now, just missing what he was.
Part of the problem is that there's something just so weird about it all. As chronicled and explained perfectly by Will Leitch in this piece for Sports on Earth, Tiger has become a freak show, more celebrity than athlete at this point, a spectacle rather than competitor. The size of the image remains, but it's now disconnected from the game -- and disturbingly disproportionate. He seems to have lost the ability to matter for the right reasons.
The golf world isn't his anymore, with U.S. colleges disgorging hot pro prospects faster than ever who never had to grow up fearing him. That trance has been broken, his 2009 Escalade accident like a snapping of fingers.
The 82 he carded in Phoenix last week was a new low, only to be followed by Thursday's withdrawal from the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. This time he was carted off while lamenting his misfiring gluteal muscles, but even that specific physical malady can't explain his utter inability to chip. The short-game problem looks more like classic sports yips, alarmingly like the second basemen who lose the ability to make the throw to first. Which is to say, more head than body.
He looks old and strange, and it's hard to watch.
Eroding stars in sports sometimes stand out starkly, as in this case of a man standing alone over a golf ball, surrounded by expanses of green with all eyes on his next swing.
When another grounder would find its way past a cement-footed Derek Jeter, a fan wasn't immediately imagining the superior range chart of the replacement-level shortstop who would have turned it into an easy out, but it was clear. Peyton Manning can't fit the same ball into the same window, and we watch defenses that know it take advantage. Boxers just get knocked out.
This feels more like Michael Jordan on the Washington Wizards, now, that similarly grim march to nowhere by a generational talent with little left, looking all wrong and out of place, still locked in futile battle with injury and ageless, human truth.
It wasn't supposed to be like this, except of course it was.
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