As afternoon turned toward evening Friday, Tiger Woods climbed into the back seat of a gray SUV and was driven away from the scene of what had to be one of the worst days he has ever spent on a golf course.
He had shot 79 and missed the 36-hole cut in the Quail Hollow Championship by a mile. Tiger Woods doesn't do that. Since he turned pro in 1996, he has missed six cuts. At one point he went 142 tournaments without missing one.
But that wasn't Tiger Woods out there Friday, not the golden one we've known for all these years, the one who hits all those miraculous shots and who has won 71 tournaments, including 14 major championships. What we saw was a man who looks like that Tiger, walks like that Tiger, talks like that Tiger but isn't.
He says he's rusty from a months-long layoff from golf that resulted from the scandal about his extramarital affairs, but it's more than rust. He's damaged. You could see it at the Masters, where he made his comeback to the game. He finished fourth there, but it wasn't done with consistent quality golf, Tiger golf. You could see it here.
Here, he shot 74 on Thursday and it felt like a prelude to what was to come on Friday. He hit six fairways in two days. Try that with a short game that was shockingly bad. It's a sure way to get a weekend off.
Watching him struggle on this perfect day for golf, you felt things you've never felt about him, saw things you've never seen. He got sympathy applause. Ever heard that around him? He didn't try on a short putt at the 15th green, and he always tries. There was some humiliation in some of the shots he couldn't pull off, and you don't often put him and humility in the same sentence.
He had back-to-back double bogeys. It was only the third time in his career he's had back-to-back doubles or worse. He shot 43 on the back nine, equaling his worst. He shot 79, which he's never done outside a major.
Clearly his head wasn't in it and neither, probably, was his heart. But he refused to blame his performance on the turmoil engulfing his personal life, saying, "Does it test you? Yes, of course it does. Is that any excuse? No, because I'm out there and I have the same opportunity as everybody else here in this field to shoot a good number, and I didn't do it."
Good try, but when you've been through personal hell for months, when your marriage is on the rocks, when people around the world are criticizing you, when you've lost millions in endorsement money and you can't leave your home to go play golf without a papparazi helicopter hovering overhead, when your world has gone crazy, there is no way your golf game is not going to suffer. It's just not that important anymore, not for awhile.
Tiger didn't give us much to roar about this week, not much to even shout about, but as he walked up the last hole Friday he got prolonged applause from the thousands surrounding the green. He touched his hat in response. It was one of his best moments of an awful week.
What lies ahead? Tiger will eventually make it back. It's not gone, it's just misplaced. He'll try to find it again next week at the Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Meanwhile, he said, "..at least I get the weekend to watch (TV) and see how it's done, how real players play golf, and hopefully I can piece it together for next week and be ready to go."
Ron Green Sr. is a retired Observer columnist. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org