US PGA : Tiger Woods out to bury the ghost of Firestone
Never mind Whistling Straits, Tiger Woods is in dire straits for this week's US PGA Championship.
In the past nine months, we have seen Woods' off-course image shattered and his marriage wrecked by a mind-boggling sex scandal.
Yet nobody ever could have imagined that the one constant in Tiger's life, his golf game, would disintegrate as spectacularly as it did last weekend in Firestone.
Woods is still World No 1 after Phil Mickelson's hapless 78 in his closing round.
However, for the first time this century, Tiger is not the bookies favourite going into one of golf's four Majors.
Mickelson is rated at 12/1 to win a second US PGA title next Sunday, while few will be tempted to take Tiger at 14/1 after he stumbled to the worst 72-hole performance of his professional playing career at the Bridgestone Inviational World Golf Championship.
Woods was even quoted at 4/6 last night not to be on the American Ryder Cup team at Celtic Manor.
Tiger has one final chance to qualify under his own steam this week and, failing that, must rely on Corey Pavin for the first wild card of his career.
Every facet of Tiger's game deserted him at Firestone.
It was shocking to watch him shoot 18-over par for 72 holes and finish 30 strokes behind first-placed Hunter Mahan on a golf course where he had won seven times.
However, even after the abject misery of his final round 77, Woods refused to write himself out of the Ryder Cup equation.
After admitting he would not like to go to Celtic Manor “playing like this, definitely not”, Tiger's old defiance shone through when asked if he would pick himself if he was captain. “I think I can turn it around,” he replied.
Currently 10th in the Ryder Cup rankings as the race for the
eight automatic places on the team climaxes this week, Tiger will need a top-10 finish at the PGA this weekend and then must hope that the two men immediately ahead of him, Lucas Glover and Dustin Johnson, are well out of the reckoning.
Pavin has until September 7 to name his four picks.
Yet given the hopeless state of his game and last week's admission that his priority is to spend time with his children right now, rather than practice, Tiger seems more likely to freewheel even further into the abyss at Whistling Straits.
“I haven't practiced as much as I used to, nor should I,” said Woods last Wednesday in Akron. “My kids are more important.”
No question, the Ryder Cup badly needs Tiger to be in Wales, as corporate tickets come flooding back on to the market and being in a supportive team environment probably would help Woods to recover his ‘A' game.
Yet the conclusion of current divorce proceedings would be most helpful.
As Ulster-born TV analyst David Feherty so astutely observed: “There's nothing wrong with Tiger except his head is full of the slamming doors that you have when you go through a divorce — especially when there's children involved.”
But it’s not all rosy in the European camp either.
Padraig Harrington, despite his tied 10th finish at Akron, is still outside the automatic qualifying positions and now Sergio Garcia says he is to take a break from golf following the US PGA Championship.
The 30-year-old Spaniard, who slipped to 50th in the latest world rankings, has not won a tournament for nearly two years and is now set to sit out the next two months.
“It's been a long year,” Garcia said. “I haven't had a nice, long break my whole career.
“I need the break, I need to miss the game a little bit.”
Garcia's poor form means he is unlikely to make the team for the Ryder Cup, unless he is selected by Colin Montgomerie as a captain's pick.
“I've talked to him,” said Garcia. “He knows what I'm planning to do.”
Should Garcia miss the event at Celtic Manor in October, it would be the first Ryder Cup he had not played since turning professional.