SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. - Call it role reversal. When Tiger Woods sank his final putt at Shinnecock Hills on Friday, escaping with a 69 on a day he hit the ball to the tune of 79, he took a deep breath, puffed his cheeks and blew it out slowly.
It used to be that when Tiger finished a round it was the golf course that let out a sigh of relief.
He would overwhelm them with power, carve them with precise and creative iron play, chew 'em up with a laser-like putting stroke, and then spit 'em out. During his first eight years as a professional, and particularly during the 1999 and 2000 seasons, no course was his equal. Under par wasn't the question. How far under was.
Now, his streak of seven major championships without a victory is about to grow to eight. The fact he is just 4-over par at the U.S. Open is remarkable considering the way he continues to spray balls all over the lot. During yesterday's third round even his chipping and putting abandoned him at times.
Woods is hardheaded. When you have been the best golfer on the planet for as long as he has - Tiger has been No. 1 in the world golf rankings for 323 of the last 347 weeks - maybe you figure you know best.
Well, he doesn't. Holing his final shot yesterday for an eagle doesn't erase all the wild and wooly shots that came before during a round of 73 and doesn't change our belief that Woods is just kidding himself if he thinks he can continue without a swing coach.
To do so is to be satisfied with coming close. It is to be content with being a part of the upper echelon of golfers instead of being the upper echelon.
Funny thing. For years we were all wondering if and when someone - anyone - would step up and give Tiger a run for his money.
Now we have Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els and Vijay Singh at the top of their games and ready to rumble. And guess who's missing?
It's time that Tiger swallows some pride and asks for help.
Certainly there will be no reunion with former coach Butch Harmon. Tiger sent him packing a year and a half ago, perhaps resenting that Harmon was receiving, and accepting, so much credit for Woods' accomplishments.
Maybe Tiger should have given him some, as well. It sure looks more and more every day as if Harmon held the magic wand.
As Tiger has struggled of late, Harmon has rubbed his nose in it a bit. Harmon told the BBC the other day that when Woods arrived at Shinnecock, "he should have looked at this golf course, this set-up, and thought, 'Wow, I could win this tournament by six, seven, eight shots.' That's the old Tiger Woods.
"The Tiger Woods I see is missing fairways with irons. For him to stand there in every interview and say he's getting close and he feels really good about what he's doing, I think he is in denial."
Woods fired back yesterday with this: "He doesn't really know what I'm working on. He's never asked me and I've never talked to him about it.
"No one knows. For him to go off and say things like that, I don't understand where he's coming from. It didn't do himself or anyone any good to do that."
So there will be no reconciliation with Harmon. But there are others who could lend him a second pair of eyes.
A swing coach would observe Woods' problems and inject some control into his swing. He might preach dialing down; that it does no good to hit the ball 330 yards if 290 puts you nicely in play in places they mow.
As it is now, Tiger no longer injects fear in the field. A lot of guys, even the top players, subconsciously used to walk to the first tee wondering how much second place paid.
Mickelson, Els and the others still give Woods lip service and talk about his incredible skills, but they all know the door to the trophy case is open.
Among those who have won major championships since Tiger last did it are Ben Curtis, Rich Beem and Shaun Micheel. Any questions?
People with emotional problems see a psychiatrist. If your toilet doesn't flush right you call a plumber. If your car leaks oil you visit a mechanic.
We're all smart enough to know when we need help.
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