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Tiger misses cut at Quail Hollow
It all hinged on a four-foot putt.
For a man who's built his legend on burying the clutch putt — and from far greater distances, under far greater pressures — this birdie should've been routine.
But this Tiger Woods bites his lip over the ball like a man who's unsure of himself; a man without a cape, no longer able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.
On his penultimate hole at Quail Hollow on a steamy Friday, Woods jammed the putt, opting for force when the situation called for trust; for finesse.
The ball veered right, barely catching the lip, and just like that, he was on the outside looking in at the cut-line at the Wells Fargo Championship.
Woods used to need putts to win; now he needed one on the exacting ninth — his final hole of the day — just to play the weekend.
In keeping with the motif of this lamentable campaign, Woods left his approach shot into the final green woefully short, then left the do-or-die birdie putt from 50 feet at least five feet short.
And with that he headed for his Gulfstream and the flight back to his compound in Jupiter, convinced he was headed for just the eighth missed cut of his professional career and the second in a row at one of his favorite courses.
"Frustration," he said later, "I've missed my share of cuts in the past, and they don't feel good."
Predictably, the autopsy into his Charlotte malfunction began immediately.
"It was a struggle all the way around," admitted Woods' caddie, Joe LaCava. "I think he'd tell you everything was kind of mediocre."
Was the victory in March at Bay Hill — his first on the PGA Tour since his life became the road kill of scandal and divorce — an anomaly?
His worst-ever performance at the Masters, now followed three weeks later by a missed cut, suggests that all isn't well inside Tiger's world.
"Personally, his self belief's got to be shot," said Nick Faldo.
Or maybe the answer lies in the words of Corey Carroll, Woods' former closest friend in Orlando, who was quoted in Haney's book "The Big Miss" saying that Woods just isn't as good as he once was.
The mistakes that cost Woods at Quail Hollow weren't just physical. He seemed distracted, his mind not fully on the job.
Perhaps it's because he's believed to be in the midst of negotiating a new contract with Nike, the biggest benefactor left on his portfolio.
(Tiger's agent, Mark Steinberg, said he doesn't discuss business dealings when I asked whether the negotiations were weighing on Woods.)
Woods, however, isn't one to open windows into his soul and so preferred to overlook the psychological, as well as the 33 putts he took on Friday and the half-dozen flubbed chips and pitches.
Instead, he blamed his poor play once again on the incompatible "combo platter" of ex-coach Hank Haney's backswing mixed with current coach Sean Foley's downswing.
Woods said that because Foley's set-up feels so uncomfortable to him, he tends to revert to Haney's.
"If I get over the golf ball and I feel uncomfortable, I hit it great," he said. "It's just that I get out there and I want to get comfortable, and I follow my old stuff and I hit it awful."
He hinted that despite being 20 months into his work with Foley, he may still be a long way away from recapturing the form that won him 14 major championships.
"If you think about it, with Butch (Harmon), it took me two years and with Hank (Haney) it took me almost two years before old (swing) patterns are out," he said.
"It takes time. ... It takes hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of golf balls, but eventually it comes around."
That timeframe might be fine for a player early in his career, but the clock is ticking for a 36-year-old with four knee surgeries and chronic Achilles problems.
There will be those who think Foley's to blame for Woods' woes, but Geoff Ogilvy, who played alongside Woods, isn't one of them.
"I think he's actually playing pretty well," said the urbane Aussie. "He hit four or five pretty loose shots off the tee, but if he holed putts, he'd be in contention. Or he wouldn't be out of the tournament.
"I think he's actually getting there. I know that sounds ridiculous because he used to look horrible and win tournaments.
"I think he's doing a lot of good stuff. ... But he has to putt better."
Woods cut a forlorn figure as he balanced his hat on his head, held his golf shoes and walked to his car.
"See you next week," he told some media members, referring to The Players championship in Ponte Vedra Beach.
But whom will we see next week?