Tiger Woods' performance at the Players Championship was an assault on the senses — odorous at times, painful to watch. And hear.
Criticisms cut deep. "I think he is entirely lost," David Duval said on Golf Channel following Woods' first round. "Never seen such a brilliant player playing golf swing' so much like he is. It looks like he is thinking about every position through the entire golf swing. That has handcuffed him both physically and between the ears."
NBC's Johnny Miller suggested Woods return to the classroom with yet another different teacher. "I think he's playing pretty bad," Miller said in the midst of the third round. "His short game is not good. I don't even know what is good. I probably shouldn't say this. He probably needs to get another teacher. I think he needs to get a whole different line of thinking. I think what he's doing now is not working."
Was it that bad? It depends on who you ask. Ask Woods and he hints at progress, however indiscernible to anyone else. "Mixed bag pretty much all week," he said following his round of even-par 72 on Sunday. "Lot of really good stuff out there, some mediocre and some bad. Three sevens on the week, that's not very good. They'll get cleaned up over time."
Conceding him the beginning step in that journey of a thousand miles, that still leaves him a thousand miles from his desired destination. Was it even a step forward? Woods tied for 69th in a field of 75, which juxtaposed with his previous tournament, a tie for 17th at the Masters, represents a step in the opposite direction.
A winner of 14 major championships should not be pumping a fist for making the cut, as Woods did with a birdie on his last hole on Friday. It was one of 18 birdies he made a difficult course, a sufficient number to contend had it not been for various messes he scattered around the TPC Sawgrass. He made four double bogeys and a triple bogey, the latter coming on the par-4 14th hole on Sunday.
Woods remains a victim of what inspired the title of Hank Haney's book, the big miss. Exacerbating the problem is that the direction of Woods' errant tee shots was unpredictable. On Sunday, he missed wide right on one, wide left on five, right on seven, left on nine, left on 14 and right on 18. He hit only four of 14 fairways and only 50 percent for the tournament.
It was not a clarifying week for the state of his game, which returns to the shelf for three weeks. He won't play again until the Memorial in June, yet another blow for those who are wishing his career a speedy recovery.