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Tiger, Tiger Burning . . .
[Editor's Note: Award-winning sportswriter Marino Parascenzo is at Augusta National Golf Club for this week's Masters. Marino, who's been covering the Masters since 1976, will provide daily reports for Cybergolf from the tournament, which began Thursday. Here's his third installment.]
It used to be that Tiger Woods was the guy who could sleep in if he wanted to, as late as he wanted to. When they made up the starting times for the third round in the Masters, with low guys latest, he was usually in the last group, or near the last.
On Saturday, Woods was just about finishing his round when the leaders were teeing off. He was so far back to start the day he was anticlimax. People were long since crowding into the merchandise palace and coming out with bags of stuff hanging from both hands, looking like pack mules in a caravan.
If this was the Masters, this wasn't Tiger Woods going after No. 5. It was time to go shopping. It would seem something odd is going on here.
Woods ran off with the Arnold Palmer Invitational a few weeks ago. It was his first victory in some 30 months, his first since his lurid domestic scandals. Some say that was the old Tiger Woods winning the Palmer, the one who dominated the world of golf. Ah, that was more like it. It was also the old Tiger who smiled and spoke with confidence early this Masters week.
So who was the Tiger Woods feeling his way around Augusta National Saturday, in the third round of this Masters, on a course he practically owns?
Well, he did get a big break. It turned out that the best thing that could happen to him started happening right away. The leaders, Freddie Couples, a 52-year-old romantic figure caught in a time warp, and Jason Dufner, a little-known figure who crashed at the PGA Championship last August, quickly went about the business of coughing up their leads. The point being that with some decent play, they might have buried much of the field, and Woods in particular.
Next, someone in the press building - maybe someone who excavates tombs for a hobby - was proclaiming that all Woods had to do in the fourth round Sunday was shoot a 62. A 62? Just 10-under and the course record? That would do it? Right. Just a 62.
Then a bunch of guys noticed this was the Masters and the steeplechase was on down the backstretch. When the Saturday ended, Woods was 12 shots off the lead of the surprising Swede, Peter Hanson. The best a 62 by Woods would do was perhaps fetch a few curiosity-seekers out of the merchandise tent.
It's starting to look very much that what we're seeing here is a Tiger Woods who has lost his way. A little more of this and he will be the Flying Dutchman of golf, wandering aimlessly in search of a port.
"I was so close to putting it together today," Woods was saying. He's been saying that, or something much like it, a lot. Once the gold standard upon which all of golf was built, he now seems to be built on clay, and it's raining. The swing comes, the swing goes, and often not day-to-day but swing-to-swing. It's all so un-Tigerish.
Late last year, as he was talking of how the re-make of his swing was taking hold and speaking of tighter patterns, compressing the ball, less deviation, and of cabbages and kings. Finally, he said, he was comfortable with the new swing. "I don't have to think about it anymore," he said. He was really convincing. But it didn't translate easily onto the scoreboard.
And as if Woods wasn't having enough trouble getting those endorsement dollars rolling again, that bratty display in the second round probably didn't help much. Not with the swearing and carrying on, and the club-kicking. Heck sakes, kids might even start looking for the club-kick in their Tiger video games.
That was at the par-3 16th Friday, when he put his tee shot into a bunker, and let the 9-iron fall from his hands over his left shoulder - not too extreme an expression of disgust. But then he turned and kicked the offending club maybe 10 yards. The PGA Tour does not announce fines. Even so, the consensus in the golf media was that the tour probably wouldn't have the courage to lay one on Woods, lest it offend him.
Temper outbursts are, of course, a good indicator of frustration, and of the game's perverse way of not loving us back. Even so, tour golfers are expected to conduct themselves in a manner becoming, and all that.
Everybody's human. Sergio Garcia, the blithe Spaniard, in an observation Friday having nothing to do with Woods, was asked about the ideal temperament for golf. "I'll tell you when I find it," said Garcia, in what Tiger could use in his defense. "I think that's the million-dollar question. The right temperament for golf, it doesn't exist. The Guy Up Top probably has it, but anybody else - I don't think so."
Then there's Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy for the prosecution, also in a statement unrelated to Woods' snit. "I definitely didn't have a good temperament for golf when I was growing up," he said. "I think you learn that being like that, it can only be a negative thing for you. There's no point in getting upset or really throwing clubs because it just puts you in a bad frame of mind."
What got to Woods in the second round were his old problems creeping back into his game, despite all his work and philosophizing. He'd got to 2-under for the tournament with two early birdies, then played his last 15 holes in 5-over for a 75, his highest Masters round since 2004. There were, for example, the semi-shank at the 15th, then failing to clear the bunker with his flop shot, and then the 9-iron into the bunker at the 16th. Stuff that used to come natural.
Tiger Woods himself has been an evangelist for patience and self-control. "I understand how to be patient," he said. "I understand how to grind it out."
There was the echo of a voice in disbelief. It was that of Nick Faldo, three-time Masters' champ and now TV commentator, making his observation after the Woods 9-iron kick, one that no one would dare breathe until only recently.
Said Faldo: "I think we can safely say Tiger has lost his game . . . and his mind."
Marino Parascenzo can assure you that hanging around with great and famous pro golfers does nothing to help your game. They just won't give you the secret. But it makes for a dandy career. As a sportswriter with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (now retired), Parascenzo covered the whole gamut of sports - Steelers, Pirates, Penguins, Pitt, Penn State and others - but golf was his favorite. As the beat writer for the paper, he covered all the stateside majors and numerous other pro events, and as a freelancer handled reporting duties for the British Open and other tournaments overseas - in Britain, Spain, Italy, the Caribbean, South Africa, China and Malayasia. Marino has won more than 20 national golf-writing awards, along with state and regional awards. He has received the Memorial Tournament's Golf Journalism Award and the PGA of America's Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism. His writing has appeared in numerous magazines, among them Sports Illustrated, Golf Digest and Golf Magazine, and in anthologies and foreign publications. He also wrote the history of Oakmont Country Club. Parascenzo is a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America and is on its board of directors. He is the founder and chairman of the GWAA's Journalism Scholarship Program. He is a graduate of Penn State and was an adjunct instructor in journalism at Pitt.