Green: Tiger Woods' struggles painful to watch

Jerry Green, The Detroit News

Sports are supposed to provide joy for the participants and the multitudes of fanaticizing foot soldiers, yet fun and games often turn into events that cause deep sorrow.

And watching Tiger Woods play the hacker's game on the windswept links of St. Andrews is an event of ultimate sorrow. He missed the cut Saturday.

The worst of sports is witnessing the decline and demise of the supreme athlete. The athlete who has been the greatest. The athlete who has been admired and sometimes adored, revered by the people.

It was painful years ago watching Muhammad Ali sit punched out and defeated, his career ended on his stool in Las Vegas.

It hurt watching Steve Carlton, a great pitcher, turn into a left-hander on the lam, drifting from team to team — his vain effort to recapture his brilliance.

The pathos was there watching Joe Montana fling wildly at the end and Walter Payton forfeiting his thrust and speed in his final days.

So few of the greatest decide to retire before the ultimate sorrow. They struggle on with the urge to recreate their glories. Instead, they tarnish their careers.

And so it is now with Tiger Woods on the golf courses of the world — his stage.

He tries to play on, pathetically, the skills diminishing — and now gone.

Feeding frenzy

And in playing on he makes himself meat for the leeches and parasites — we the carnivorous media. Guilty right now, myself. He is fodder for the analysts, the self-anointed experts with their failed opinions. He is bludgeoned in the repetitious overkill. Guilty here again.

Tiger, the greatest golfer of his generation, the man who turned his family into victims, is a now a victim of prey by the media.

It is time for him to stop, to admit that it is over. It is time for us to stop trying to figure him out.

He cannot compete any more with Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson, fellow Yanks, and with the best of the Europeans and Australians. This was in view again on the telly, from over there, in the nasty winds and cold.

Once the master, the eloquent shot-maker, Woods has turned into a boring caricature. A piteous caricature of what he once was.

Even Paul Azinger, a one-time champ, slapped at Woods on ESPN after a 76 in Thursday's first round of the British Open.

"He keeps saying he's close, but he may be delusional," zinged Azinger.

Paul Azinger, once upon a time, was regarded as vanilla-peach during his own career as a contending golfer. He managed as single bare major championship in his own career. He won a playoff with a choking Greg Norman at the PGA Tournament 22 years ago at Inverness down in Toledo.

Now in the current British Open, he continuously jabbed at Woods, who has won 14 majors.

"It's hard to watch the greatest player of this generation be a middle of the pack hack," Azinger told America's gaping audience from Scotland about Tiger's 76 in the first round.

" . . .You almost want to say, 'Who are you and what have you done to Tiger Woods?'"

Mean, but true.

But before every major this year — the Masters in April, the U.S. Open in June and now again in July from St. Andrews, the holiest of major golf's shrines, at The Open in Scotland — we were hit with the critiques and the reviews.

His stroke is analyzed and re-examined. His mind is probed. He is the repeated target of the international media. And his own comments at his pre-tournament press conferences seem hollow and uninspired. His attempt to deliver a joke was plaintive and weak.

"Retirement?" he told the international media corps at St. Andrews this past week.

"I don't have any AARP card yet, so I'm a ways from that. I'm still young. I'm not 40 yet. I know some of you guys think I'm buried and done, but I'm still right here in front of you."

And then he shot a bogey-laden 76 and a 75 en route to missing a second cut in a major in six weeks – on both sides of the Atlantic.

Harsh realities

The truth is that Woods has not won a major tournament in seven years. Then his golf game turned sour. His family became broken. He became the international playboy with all the scandalous publicity that follows that sort of stuff in the 21st Century celebrity-hugging media realm.

Sleazy! Tiger himself. And we the media, who thrive on the downfall of a revered champion.

There were his injuries. Leg, back, elbow.

Now he gone from The Open, cut again, beaten. Seven-over par, tied for 147th on the leader board.

He won The Open Championship, as the Brits prefer with all their pomposity to call their major tournament, thrice. OK, three times. Twice, in 2000 and 2005, he dissected the Old Course at St. Andrews that beat him down this year.

There was this item out of St. Andrews Saturday from the normally fawning Golf Digest, which provides golf coverage more thoroughly than any of us mere mortal media marvels might manage:

"Tiger Woods as a mediocre-to-bad professional golfer is a reality of the present . . . His performance in the British Open is more evidence that he's done, but in fact he was already done before the week began."

All done! The ultimate sorrow!

Jerry Green is a retired Detroit News sports columnist.