Woods might never be looked at the same

The passenger was waiting in a long line at Heathrow on Tuesday

when he came face-to-face with an Accenture advertisement on the

wall showing Tiger Woods walking through the tall grass with a club

in his hand.

The man stared for the longest time, then turned away and said

solemnly, “I can’t believe it.”

If this episode ever ends, if the key statistic associated with

Woods ever goes back to greens in regulation, one thing is becoming

clear.

No one will ever look at him the same.

Ask yourself this question: If you’ve seen Woods lately in the

U.S. PGA Tour’s commercial on charity, was it jarring?

Almost as shocking as the allegations of infidelity is the

swiftness of his fall. For 13 years on the U.S. PGA Tour – longer

if you go back to his six straight U.S. titles as an amateur –

Woods rarely was regarded as anything but an indomitable

figure.

Just like that, he has become the butt of jokes.

His colleagues, who once spoke about him with reverence, now

take pity. Even John Daly feels sorry for him.

Despite being among the most famous athletes in the world, we

knew so little about Woods. Now we know too much. Woods managed to

keep himself out of the tabloids for years only to be the cover boy

now.

The big development on Tuesday featured yet another emergency

phone call, another ambulance inside the exclusive gated community

of Isleworth at an address everyone now knows. This time, it was to

take his mother-in-law, Barbro Holmberg, to the hospital for

stomach pains. She was released later Tuesday.

There’s no word when Woods might return. His caddie, Steve

Williams, told the New Zealand Herald over the weekend that he

expected to be back on the bag at the San Diego Open. That was

merely a comment to show he was standing by the boss. Not even his

caddie knows when Woods will be back in public.

The last tournament Woods played spoke to his iconic status

around the world. He won the Australian Masters before enormous

crowds, with so much foot traffic that it kicked up dust from the

sandbelt course and caused Woods to wipe the grime from his

face.

The woman keeping score on the last day at Kingston Heath

whispered to the teenager carrying the scoreboard, “This is the

holy grail in golf.” Given the publicity and the amount of

allegations, does she still feel that way?

Until this salacious saga began on Nov. 27 with a car accident

outside his home, few embarrassing moments for Woods made

headlines.

GQ magazine caught him telling racial jokes while riding in a

limousine. His father once called him the “Chosen One” and said

he would do more than anyone to change the course of humanity. A

boom mike on the 18th hole at Pebble Beach picked up an

obscenity-laced tirade when he hit a tee shot into the ocean. Woods

threw a club that bounced into the gallery in Australia.

This is what used to pass as a scandal for Woods.

He has been the subject of TV show host David Letterman’s “Top

10” list twice in the last four months. The first occasion was in

August after Y.E. Yang beat him on the final day in the U.S. PGA

Championship. Back then, the unflattering moment for Woods was

about his golf, not his life. Among the top 10 excuses why Woods

lost: “Would you practice if you had a hot, Swedish wife?”

Letterman poked fun at Woods again on Monday with the top 10

ways how Woods can improve his image. On the list were safely

landing a golf cart in the Hudson River, fixing the health-care

mess, and crashing a state dinner at the White House.

Even that might not be enough.

Woods is not the first athlete to be dragged down by what he

referred to as “personal failings.” It’s just that few other

examples came as such as a shock, even to some of those who are

closest to him.

Still to be determined is whether so much calamity off the

course will affect Woods inside the ropes.

The 33-year-old Woods most likely is just now coming into the

prime of his career, already having won 14 majors in pursuit of the

record 18 won by Jack Nicklaus. Next year would seem to be the

ideal time to make up ground, with the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach

and the British Open at St. Andrews.

Accenture, meanwhile, continues to feature Woods on the home

page of its Web site. He is standing in the desert rough,

surrounded by cactus plants, trying to figure out his next move.

“Opportunity isn’t always obvious,” the headline says.

Now more than ever.