Colin Montgomerie yesterday described Tiger Woods as "mentally not with it" and intimated he was a doubt for the Ryder Cup and, as if to prove the opposing captain correct, the American proceeded to wander all over the Firestone property.
Woods hit just three of 14 fairways on the second day of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and did well to escape with a round of two-over. Having only once shot over 71 in 40 previous competitive rounds on the Ohio layout, Woods has gone over that mark on successive days. At six-over he is tied for 71st in an 80-man field and peering up at a golfer tied for second with some trepidation.
This weekend the game will wait to see whether Phil Mickelson can at last capitalise on the capitulation of his nemesis and become the world No 1 for the first time in his career. As long as Woods finishes out of the top 37 – and, as incredible as it seems to suggest it, that can be classed a probable now – Mickelson need only come in the top four. Seeing as a 68 took him to six-under, just the one behind the pacesetter, Retief Goosen, that seems the least of the Master champion's ambition. Yesterday, the left-hander appeared to be in his element, producing his trademark miracle shots and sending the crowd into a frenzy. His elan was in complete contrast to the misery surrounding Woods.
If his 74-72 embarrassment is not a plain indication of his woeful form at the moment then how about this: at the halfway point Woods is standing dead last in fairways hit (eight out of 28) and has managed to hit only 18 out of 36 greens in regulation. That is as bad as it has ever got for the 14-time major winner. And that it has all come to pass at Firestone makes this latest chapter of his downfall all the more stunning.
Certainly this is one love affair which has met a sudden and acrimonious end. Woods rarely, if ever, declines to talk to the media but refused both the television and reporters as he hurriedly made his way out of the gates. He had plenty to seethe about. In his last 10 holes he chalked up five bogeys, only rescuing the humiliation with two birdies in the morass of blue numbers.
There were a couple of moments to remind us of the old Tiger, but in the main this was the new Tiger in all his mediocrity. He came to Akron pleased with his driving and determined to bring his putter in line. In the event the opposite has transpired. His waywardness off the tee-boxes is making his aim on the greens seem precise.
The only consolation Woods could possibly find last night was that there is no cut in this World Golf Championship dollar-fest. If there was he would be heading home early from the course where he has happened to have won seven of 10 tournaments and where he has never finished out of the top four before. Little wonder that admirers such as Montgomerie feel so comfortable in writing him off for the weekend.
"He's not mentally with it right now, that's obvious," said the Scot. "I hope he gets back to some form shortly. Most importantly right now for Tiger is thinking about the Ryder Cup – he's not in the automatic positions of their qualifying. It doesn't look like he's going to be in the top eight after this event and that makes the USPGA a very important event for him next week."
The season's final major is also the final qualifying event for the American team. Corey Pavin, the US captain, is planning to talk to Woods at Whistling Straits with a wildcard pick the obvious subject matter. Most assume that Pavin will be keen to have Woods on his team. Montgomerie is not so sure. "Does Corey Pavin take a chance hoping Tiger's form will change before the Ryder Cup?" he asked. "That's up to him and not us."
Hunting down Tiger how his lead in the rankings fell
15 April 2008
Tiger Woods leads Phil Mickelson by 12.604 points in the world rankings as he undergoes third left knee operation. Misses the next two months.
16 June 2008
Leads Mickelson by 11.328 points after winning US Open virtually on one leg. Two days later Woods announces he is to have left knee surgery once again.
27 November 2009
Leads Phil Mickelson by 6.987 points. Injured after his car hits a fire hydrant outside his home in Florida.
2 May 2010
Leads Mickelson by 1.509 average points. Woods would have lost top spot if he failed to finish in the top five at The Players Championship and Mickelson won but Tim Clark wins the event.
30 May 2010
Leads Mickelson by 0.906 points. World number two Mickelson could have dethroned Woods as the world's best at Colonial in Texas, but crashed out of the Crowne Plaza Invitational after carding a dismal three-over second-round 73 to miss the cut.
13 June 2010
Leads Mickelson by 0.558 points. Britain's world No 3 Lee Westwood is snapping at their heels after winning the St Jude Classic.
20 June 2010
Leads Mickelson by 0.785 points. If Mickelson had won the US Open at Pebble Beach then Woods would have lost his top spot, but Northern iIreland's Graeme McDowell ended Europe's 40-year wait for a champion instead.