Woods desperately needs tough love

After watching Tiger Woods struggle through his worst performance as a professional, it was obvious he heads into the year’s final major as a man in dire need of many things.

He needs to find some kind of golf game, and soon, and he needs to find some kind of peace because his head’s not in it, and neither is his heart, and without any of those, he’s just making up the numbers at Whistling Straits.

“Absolutely not,” he responded Sunday when I asked him if golf was still fun. “Shooting 18-over-par is not fun.”

But what four wretched days at Firestone Country Club most revealed is he’s a man in desperate need of some tough love.

To put it not-so-diplomatically, someone needs to tell Tiger Woods to get his head out of his rear end.

I know we live in touchy-feely times when all kinds of indulgent behavior is excused because someone wasn’t breast-fed long enough, but let’s leave all of that nonsense where it belongs: with the corporate nannies in Human Resources.

Tiger Woods is the son of a Green Beret, and Green Berets don’t mope around, angry at the world and sorry for themselves.

He needs to be reminded that people, sadly, get divorced all the time and yet they’re still expected to suck it up and go to work and perform at their jobs to the best of their abilities.

His job is to be the best golfer in the world, by far the best I’ve ever seen and the best I will ever see, and he’s performing that job to about the worst of his abilities.

Now, I understand that most marriages don’t dissolve with every item of dirty laundry, real or fabricated, aired in the tabloids.

And I appreciate the upset such intrusions have caused for a man who treasures his privacy and, I think, didn‘t want this divorce to begin with.

But Tiger has known since he was a child that celebrity and a fishbowl existence would be the cross he’d always have to bear. That was his pound of flesh, and that didn’t change when he decided to lead a double life of secret rendezvous.

He has to deal with the consequences of his actions, no matter how unpleasant. If he doesn’t want to, then he should pull out of the PGA Championship, announce a long hiatus from golf, go home to an empty house and sulk about how unfair life is.

I don’t recommend it, but neither is it doing him any good to slap it around like he did at Firestone, a course at which he has won seven of the 10 times he has played, and had never, until Sunday, finished worse than fourth.

Earlier this year, I asked one of his confidantes what overriding emotion he thought Woods felt after his life unraveled last Thanksgiving.

“Embarrassment,” came the response.

Well, this should’ve been the golfing equivalent. And maybe it’ll serve as a wake-up call.

I have to believe Woods was embarrassed by his performance because to think otherwise, to believe he wasn’t embarrassed by beating just one player, an ill Henrik Stenson, in the 80-man elite field, is to accept that Woods doesn’t care anymore.

Or to believe in conspiracy theories that he’s deliberately playing badly, like a golfing Machiavelli, to either avoid going to the Ryder Cup or to earn sympathy from fans who deserted him in the wake of his sex scandal.

In retrospect, I should’ve known something was awry when Woods played the opening round with a goatee. I’ve seen him sporting facial hair many times when he arrives at tournaments, but by Thursday, he’s always clean shaven. Not this week.

I even asked him whether the goatee might face the razor after an opening 4-over 74, which was his worst-ever score at Firestone (Sunday‘s 77 has since replaced it in the record books).

“I don’t know,” he said with a shrug. “We’ll see.”

He was as indifferent to my question as he was to his golf. Woods kept the goatee for the entire tournament. It became the motif for his unraveling.

Though the extent of the demise took us all by surprise, it seems it didn’t shock Woods himself.

Even though he told us on Wednesday his game was heading in the right direction and on Thursday he couldn‘t understand why he‘d played so poorly given his good practice sessions, on Sunday he revealed something very different.

“No, it doesn’t surprise me at all, actually,” Woods acknowledged.

I asked him why.

“It’s been a long year,” he replied.

I tried to delve deeper, but he wasn’t interested in going there and, frankly, we all knew what he meant, anyway.

“It’s been a long year,” he simply repeated.

By the time the leaders had teed off at Firestone on Sunday afternoon, a Gulfstream jet carrying Woods and caddie Steve Williams already had landed in Sheboygan, Wis. Monday morning, at the crack of dawn, the two are scheduled to arrive at the first tee at nearby Whistling Straits for a practice round.

The question now is: Which Tiger Woods will show up?