Column: Tiger's display an embarrassment to game
It's a question we've all been asking since he wrecked his Escalade and his life that Thanksgiving night 30 months ago.
Who is Tiger Woods really?
Part of the answer came Friday in a foul-mouthed, club-kicking back nine at the Masters that would have gotten you or me thrown off much lesser golf courses than Augusta National.
Pretty simple, actually. He's an embarrassment to his sport.
If Billy Payne was watching he had to be horrified. The Masters chairman who famously chastised Woods two years ago for conduct unbecoming a role model would have seen conduct unfit for the back nine of a local muni.
Amid the staid confines of golf's most hallowed grounds, Woods acted like a petulant teenager who wasn't getting his way. He cursed wayward shots, hung his head after missed putts, and took mock swings in anger. To top things off, he kicked his 9-iron about 15 yards on the 16th teebox after badly missing yet another shot.
About the only thing he didn't do was grab his bag from caddie Joe La Cava and toss it into the nearby pond.
''I think we can safely say Tiger has lost his game ... and his mind,'' CBS analyst Nick Faldo said on air.
The player who vowed to honor and respect the game when he came back from the sex scandal that derailed his career and ruined his marriage did just the opposite. And he did it on a course where over the years the game's greats have conducted themselves with only the best sense of deportment.
Asked afterward how he felt, he could only offer this:
''I feel hungry.''
Woods will be around for the weekend because the 75 he shot was still good enough to make the cut, though watching his histrionics as he played the back nine might have led a casual observer to think he was struggling to break 100. He's eight shots back of the lead and will have an early tee time Saturday with defending champion Charl Schwartzel, who might want to bring along a helmet in case the clubs start flying again.
If Payne is as serious about keeping club decorum intact as he is about keeping women members out of Augusta National, he would do well take it upon himself to show Woods the door.
Stand up to the bully. He's allowed to get away with things the other 95 players wouldn't dream of doing. Stand up for a game that Woods insists on treating as if it were a roller derby match.
Won't happen, of course. Woods gets special treatment here not just because he's a four-time champion who knows how to say all the right things when they drape a green jacket around his shoulders, but because he moves the needle on television.
Chances are he won't even get a tongue lashing from Payne, who has already botched one bubbling controversy this week and surely doesn't want to get involved in another. Payne hasn't been seen since declaring Wednesday that Augusta National is a private club that will do what it wants and that any conversations he has with his granddaughters about not being able to be a member here are conversations he plans to keep quiet.
What set Woods off on Friday wasn't hard to figure out. He missed three putts under 5 feet on the front nine - two of them badly - and was already steaming when he started the back. Then the swing he thought had been rebuilt to perfection with coach Sean Foley collapsed under the pressure of trying to post a score.
He swung a club in anger after pushing an iron shot badly on No. 11, then cursed when he missed the par putt. He muttered after another shot stuck in the bank of the hazard on the 13th hole, then threw a tee down in anger to mark the spot for his pitch. A 4-iron at 15 went so far right he was yelling at it and looked like he wanted to break his club, and on the 16th hole he was so irritated by a missed 9-iron that he dropped the club behind him, then kicked it as hard as he could.
That prompted former swing coach Hank Haney, who wrote in his book that Woods used to give him the silent treatment when he played badly, to tweet ''Glad it's not me.''
When Woods was done, his agent and the person he pays to shield him from the media put him in front of a friendly questioner in the media scrum outside the scoring area. He gave a smile for the cameras, talked about how he was still in the tournament and, in a final absurdity, preached the importance of patience for the weekend.
That Woods is still fighting the demons that have gotten into his game - and perhaps his life - is evident. He's obviously frustrated at being where he is in a tournament he expected to be competitive in after winning two weeks ago at Bay Hill, and is coming to the unsettling realization that the swing changes he's made don't always work under pressure.
But he's the greatest player of his era, and a role model in the sport. He has a responsibility to behave, yet he can't seem to control how he behaves.
He embarrassed himself, and he embarrassed the sport.
But at least we know more now about the real Tiger Woods.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or twitter.com/timdahlberg