Tiger Woods last night admitted he does not want to play in the Ryder Cup in his current state. The world No 1 made the pronouncement that Celtic Manor had been dreading after his worst 72-hole performance of his 14-year professional career.
A final-round 77 in the WGC Bridgestone Invitational left him at 18-over and with only one player behind him. And Henrik Stenson was ill. In four days, Firestone, previously the happiest of his hunting grounds, became the burial ground for his comeback. It was stunning for everyone, but most pertinently for himself. His highest ever score on a competitive Sunday at last jolted him into giving an answer about whether America could count him in for the biennial match against Europe in eight weeks' time. He could hardly revert to his default "I'm planning on playing my way on to the team""now could he?
"Not playing like this, definitely not, not playing like this," said Woods when presented with the question he steadfastly refused to answer last Wednesday. "I wouldn't help the team if I'm playing like this. No one would help the team if they're shooting 18 over par."
Woods did suggest there is still time "to turn it around" by the first week of September when Corey Pavin names his four wildcards. But in truth the time will run out for Woods at the USPGA Championship this week. If the 34-year-old does not force his way into the eight automatic positions by Sunday – or at least perform an incredible metamorphosis back in to a former self – then that will likely be it, finito. He will miss a second Ryder Cup in succession.
It is hard to imagine Pavin selecting him in this form and in this mood and it is even harder still to imagine Woods busting a gut in the intervening fortnight to prove he is worthy of a place. His absence – which, in reality, now seems all but certain – would be a huge blow to Celtic Manor, which has still to sell all of the tickets for the three-day match billed as the third biggest sporting event in the world. It has also been labelled as the biggest sporting event ever to be held in Wales, but without the game's biggest superstar it will inevitably lose some of its lustre.
They will not be the only ones affected as the multi-million FedEx Cup play-off series is also set to be bereft of its star turn. The speculation is that if Woods does not perform a major miracle in Wisconsin he will pack up his clubs until at least November. So much depends on the next seven days.
At least there will be one consolation when he registers today for the year's final major. Thanks to Phil Mickelson spectacularly blowing the opportunity of a career to usurp him at the top of the rankings, Woods is still the world No 1. But he is so in name only. After all, the best golfer on the planet does not finish tied for T79th when there are only 80 in the field.
"I didn't drive it at all this week. My irons weren't very good again, and I made no putts," he said, before restating the bleeding obvious. "I need to hit the ball better, I need to putt better, and I need to score better. Shooting 18 over par is not fun. I don't see how it can be fun shooting 18 over, especially since my handicap is supposed to be zero." After this brave attempt at humour he sighed. "It's been a tough year."
It could get tougher professionally still unless he does something about it. He needs a coach as much he needs that fire to return. Woods said he was proud of himself for remaining "patient". To many observers he just looked lifeless. Goodness knows what the test of Whistling Straits could do to him.
But then, nobody is picking up the club with which to beat him. Mickelson only needed to come fourth to end his five-year reign as No 1, but instead, after starting the weekend one off the pace, he finished way down in a tie for 46th, 15 shots behind the winner Hunter Mahan. He actually scored worse than his nemesis yesterday – a 78. But golf is used to such bursts of rank mediocrity from Mickelson; it it is not used to it from Woods. And it will never get accustomed to the man describing himself as a golfing liability, however much he dislikes the Ryder Cup. The downfall is almost complete.
Tiger's tale of woe
77 Woods's seven-over-par score, his highest final round as a professional
18-over Woods's aggregate total for the tournament
298 The overall score was his highest ever on the PGA Tour
72 holes And his worst ever aggregate score relative to par over the four rounds
Seven years First time since the 2003 PGA Championship that he had strung together four rounds over par
Second-last Joint position of Woods in the 80-player field
Seven out of 11 Previous number of wins in tournaments he has played at the Firestone course
9 Now Woods's position in the US Ryder Cup standings, with only the top eight automatically qualifying for the contest