Tiger Woods has a commercial where he talks to a puppet. A puppet!
Remember when Woods was the macho, menacing man of golf? Remember when he would have mocked a supposedly impossible course like Shinnecock Hills, where Retief Goosen won the U.S. Open on Sunday by not bogeying as often as Phil Mickelson?
Remember when Woods could single-handedly turn Sunday afternoons in the spring into must-see-TV, just like Sunday afternoons in the fall always have been?
Two, three years ago, Tiger would have stared down Shinnecock Hills' humbling concrete greens and sidewalk-wide fairways, put up a superhuman red number and cruised to victory.
Congratulations to Goosen, but as long as the golf is this sloppy (Goosen bogeyed four holes on Sunday and won thanks to Mickelson's double bogey on 17) at least part of the story is who lost, not who won.
It wasn't long ago that golf had an ultimate drawing card: a charismatic, hard-charging, hard-playing Woods winning seven of 11 majors.
Now we get Tiger and a puppet. It is a tiger puppet (how cute) that makes annoying wisecracks while Woods is trying to practice. The old Tiger would have taken a 5-iron and beaten the stuffing out of it. The new Tiger just cashes the check.
So blame the puppet. Maybe the lack of practice concentration is what happened to his swing.
Tiger has been so over-marketed that he's lost his mojo. In the same week when he was again a non-factor (10-over) it was announced that he earned over $80 million last year. The marketing guys are making him a mint, but in the process they have so emasculated him that he is no longer the fearsome, forceful champion we couldn't take our eyes off.
Woods was popular not just because he won but because of how he won. He did it with might, with a big driver, with a macho mentality not often seen in the pristine world of golf. Woods was the guy to root for if you didn't grow up with kids named Davis Love III.
He wasn't afraid to wear all black. He'd pump his fist after big shots. He'd pull out the driver even when the safe play was 5-wood. He didn't care. He played golf pedal to the metal, the way every one of us dreamed we would if we could.
Now he talks to puppets. You think any other golfers are scared of him now? Please, even Mickelson has a tougher commercial, one in which he sets a tee time with Wayne Gretzky and Dale Jarrett. Lefty hanging around hockey players and stock car drivers? Cool.
What has happened to Woods is depressing to watch. Not since an "in his prime" Michael Jordan did a music video with Michael Jackson has one of our sporting heroes been so humiliated by his public relations team.
You can hardly blame Woods for losing concentration on golf. The guy is rich and has little to prove. Even Rocky Balboa got fat, sassy and distracted before Clubber Lang almost killed him.
Maybe that is why he slipped. His split with old coach Butch Harmon hasn't worked out too well either. But only Tiger knows for sure.
What is clear is the shadow that Woods used to cast over a leaderboard is a thing of the past. No one fears him anymore. How could they?
Did you see that shirt Nike made him wear Saturday? It wasn't even appropriate for the Metrosexual Open. Nike is not only giving Tiger inferior clubs, they are giving him shirts that are uglier than sin. This was like the Oakland Raiders switching to teal.
It is getting difficult to root for the guy. Sunday he complained the course was too difficult. You can only hope this eight-major drought is just a slump.
"It would be awfully tough to try to deal with the fact I haven't won any majors the last couple of years if I wasn't in contention," said Woods, who went on to note some close calls. "As long as I'm still in contention then it's bearable."
Two, three years ago Tiger finds no moral victories.
Two, three years ago he wins the Open going away, leaving the bumbling contenders to their back-nine double bogeys and knee-high rough.
Two, three years ago the indomitable presence of Tiger would have first toyed with field mentally and then finished it off with a hammer.
Two, three years ago the nation would have watched, mesmerized.
Two, three years later Tiger talks to a puppet.