ARDMORE, Pa. – Tiger Woods wearing red. Sunday afternoon at the U.S. Open. Grandstand overflowing with fans holding their breath as a ball rolls toward the cup, Swoosh rolling over itself again and again.
It's an iconic image – in fact, if you were born in 1990 or after, it might be the only iconic image you associate with the game of golf. And yet here at Merion Golf Club, on this U.S. Open Sunday, all the drama belonged a thousand yards away from Woods' thousand-yard stare. His par putt on 17 veered right and left him at 13-over par for the tournament. He would finish there and card the worst score to par in a major in his professional career.
Just one bad event for the No. 1-ranked golfer in the world? Easy to say, especially on a brutal course that's about as suited to his game as the city of Philadelphia is to Mai Tais with little umbrellas. This is the course that caused Jason Dufner to toss his wedge in the drink and pushed Rory McIlroy to bend his club into disrepair as if he was Bo Jackson after a strikeout.
But Woods is supposed to be better than them, tougher than them, and able to bend even the nastiest courses to his will. Now he's got a left elbow injury of unknown severity, two horrendous performances in a row, and five full years without a major championship.
Tiger Woods the legend is cemented in history. Tiger Woods the 30-something golfer with a history of knee surgeries? Well, hmmm.
Here are the two issues that should worry fans of Woods:
1. His putting: The old Woods could make a 12-foot putt simply by scaring it into the hole with his menacing glare. This version of Woods? Mediocre. He had some reasons – detractors will say excuses – for his problems this week, including the greens being "grainy" and the pin placements being only a step away from a ridge leading down to trouble. He called Merion "tricky," which is the same word he used earlier in the week to describe a Westchester course that also gave him trouble.
2. His weekend play: Woods' overall progress since the fire hydrant episode in 2009 has been upward, but he tends to fall away on the weekends, especially in majors. He was 3-over going into Saturday's third round, and he ended up 10 shots worse than that. Now, is this a coincidence? Is it because of the putting struggles? Or is it because of the wear on his surgically repaired legs? Woods is a terrific athlete, yet let's face it: He puts a lot of torque on that left knee every time he swings the club. That can add up on any man who's been playing a sport as aggressively as Tiger has for his entire life.
Woods sure didn't seem vexed after his round. Asked what he did well and what he did poorly this week, he shot back, "I did a lot of things right. Unfortunately I did a few things wrong, as well."
Positive self-talk is a hallmark of great golfers and great champions, but Woods did more than a few things wrong at Merion – he scored bogey or worse 21 times vs. 10 birdies.
A lot of us take dramatic Sundays with Tiger Woods for granted. But that iconic Woods moment – the one we can replay in our memory over and over again – seems quite far away now.
Related U.S. Open coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
• First ace at a Merion-hosted U.S. Open in an unlikely place
• Luke Donald hits volunteer in the head with errant shot
• Phil Mickelson gives USGA official a piece of his mind