Tiger Woods' 2010: 'The Lost Year'

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. -- He was off the course, off the interview podium and off the Whistling Straits premises by 3:45 Sunday afternoon. Tiger Woods beat the crowds, but not much else at the PGA Championship.

His fourth and final major of the season had come and gone -- and so had Woods. He left the players' parking lot without a trophy -- again -- extending his majors winless streak to 0 for his last 8. Not since his 2003 and 2004 seasons has Woods taken this kind of collar.

Woods finished tied for 28th, 9 strokes behind winner Martin Kaymer. He teed off nearly three hours before the leaders and could have flown home by the time Kaymer and Woods' buddy Bubba Watson had completed the three-hole playoff. If Kaymer bothers to look, he'll see Woods' name on the Wanamaker Trophy, the last engraving coming in 2007.

In a pure, competitive golf sense, Woods didn't matter at the PGA Championship. In fact, if you don't count the fingernail scratch marks USA Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin and Golf Channel's Jim Gray exchanged over Woods' selection status for the team, he was a nonfactor from start to finish.

When asked by ESPN's Tom Rinaldi whether he really expected, given the upheaval in his life, to win the PGA, Woods said, "I thought I could. I thought I could. Certainly. Just got to play well at the right time. Just four days. I just got to put it together for four days, and I never did that."

He hasn't put four days together the entire season. Woods will tell you that himself. He has played exactly nine holes of vintage, Tiger Woods-level golf in 2010: a five-birdie, no-bogey back nine 31 in the third round of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. That's it.

I was standing 20 feet away as Woods walked off that 18th green at Pebble and gave his longtime agent Mark Steinberg a quick, knowing smile that said, "People think I'm done? Nuh-uh. I can still do this." Then he shot a 4-over-par 75 in the final round, the third-highest score of anyone who finished in the top 32 of the tournament.

And yes, we still write about him. A lot. If one season Albert Pujols forgot how to turn on a fastball, we'd write about that too.

In Woods' case, the pre- and post-fire hydrant versions of Tiger are equally compelling. What Woods can't do on a golf course in the present is as much of a story as what he could do on it in the past.

He hasn't won a major since June 2008, although it wasn't his fault knee surgery prevented him from playing the 2008 British Open and PGA Championship. And he did win six tour events in 2009 and was named Player of the Year.

But 2010 -- the Lost Year -- has been a direct byproduct of Woods' personal and professional issues. He has gone 11 consecutive rounds without breaking 70, tying the second-longest such stretch of his pro career. Five more rounds of 70-plus and he breaks his record.

He last won a Masters in 2005, a British Open in 2006, a PGA in 2007 and a U.S. Open in 2008. He had a T-4 at Augusta this year, but finished 5 strokes behind winner Phil Mickelson. He had the T-4 at Pebble, but finished 3 shots behind Graeme McDowell. He had a T-23 at St. Andrews, and at Whistling Straits, Woods was walking to his courtesy car as the leaders were just making the turn.

Think about it: Woods was done by mid-afternoon-ish at the PGA and by 11 a.m. the week before at the Bridgestone. That sound you hear is TV executives weeping.

Woods' quest to break Jack Nicklaus' majors record is in doubt. Everything is in doubt when it comes to Woods.

When is the last time there was any question about his Ryder Cup standing? He didn't qualify for automatic selection, so if he goes -- and he will if he doesn't shoot, say, matching 85s at The Barclays next week (and there's a tiny chance he might not even rank high enough to be invited) -- it will be as a captain's pick.

"I think I got a chance of maybe helping out in singles," Woods said, smiling. "Save me to singles. No, I feel like my game is a lot better than it was obviously last week. And given a little bit more time, it's starting to head in the right direction now, which is good. And I'm looking forward to it. Hopefully, Corey will pick me on the team."

The danger, of course, is what happens if Woods stinks it up in his early team matches at the Ryder? What happens if the pro-European galleries taunt him? What happens if Pavin has to consider sitting him?
There didn't used to be question marks attached to Woods. He was the surest thing since red shirts on Sundays. He was the ultimate grinder who could will himself through every situation.

Now he might or might not have a new swing coach. He might or might not play well at The Barclays. He might or might not make it through the FedEx Cup playoffs.

The danger is to dismiss him, to say that we've seen his best, that he'll never be the Tiger of old. And that's probably true. The 2000, 2005 and 2006 versions of Woods won't be repeated.

But I'm not ready to declare the Woods Era finished. The 2010 season -- yes. The rest of his career -- no.
Woods isn't what he used to be, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Forced humility has its advantages. He isn't trying to fix only his swing but also himself.

So he took another majors oh-fer. He'll live, but the streak won't. I think he'll win at least one in 2011.
All he needs is to put together four days. By April of next year, he'll be ready for them.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.