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Tiger adds disappearance to magic act

Two scenes - separated by 15 minutes and a few hundred yards Thursday at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship - characterized the new, or at least the current, version of Tiger Woods.

The first came at the 18th hole at Dove Mountain, where Woods, a victim of his own shaky short game, found himself needing a birdie at the 18th hole to extend his first-round match against Thomas Bjorn, a man on a first-name basis with golf's demons.

Like the Tiger of old, Woods summoned the magic, landing his approach shot into the par-4 green atop a shelf, then watching his ball roll back within 8 feet of the hole. When he made the birdie putt, Woods gave a mini-fist pump as he pulled his ball out of the hole and bumped knuckles with his caddie, Steve Williams, as they marched toward extra holes.

It felt like a Tiger moment.

Fifteen minutes later, with a spattering of desert sand on his face, Woods was walking alone back up the first fairway, having wasted his good work with a tee shot into the rocks and cactus, handing the win to Bjorn.

Tiger didn't always win before, but that isn't how he lost.

There is a rush to judgment in everything Woods does. He is evaluated swing by swing and round by round. Maybe it was that way before his world came apart, but it didn't have the sense of urgency through which everything Woods-related now seems to be judged.

He was excoriated for spitting on a green in Dubai this month, a breach of etiquette for which he quickly apologized, but it didn't temper the reaction, which tilted toward the extreme.

Now without a victory since the fall of 2009, the once unthinkable question of will Tiger win again has surfaced.

Of course, he's going to win again, barring some physical calamity. The fairer question is how much more will he win?

Breaking Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major championship victories was a foregone conclusion two years ago. Not any more.

The difference in watching Tiger play today and watching the Tiger of a few years ago isn't so much about the difference in what former swing coach Hank Haney teaches and what current coach Sean Foley teaches. It's the expectation level.

There's a sense of doubt where there used to be none. Woods' confidence was always his ultimate weapon, but it's been dented. It has to be.

He needs something good to happen on the golf course. When he hit that beautiful 8-iron shot on the final hole of regulation in the Target World Challenge in December, it looked like a potentially transformational moment.

Then Graeme McDowell kept pouring in putts to beat Tiger.

At Dove Mountain, he hit two lousy chip shots on the back nine - he's altering his short game to fit with Foley's overall theory - but seemed to save it with an 18th hole birdie. Then it evaporated with one bad tee shot.

When NBC's Roger Maltbie asked Woods where he stands in the process of rebuilding his golf swing, Tiger said he was ticked, so to speak.

"I blew it," Woods told Maltbie.

Then Woods started walking back to the clubhouse, alone but surrounded by questions.