Tiger shows signs of fame fatigue

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The Independent Online
In recent weeks, Tiger Woods has dropped into an alarming slump. Upon returning to the tour after a month's holiday following his 12-stroke victory at the Masters, Woods was able to win the Byron Nelson by only two strokes, explaining that the "A" game which had triumphed at Augusta had been downgraded to "C". The next week at Colonial he made two double- bogeys on Sunday and finished fourth.

This week, at Jack Nicklaus's Memorial Tournament, Superman has been playing with a Kryptonite ball. There is an inescapable Nike ad on television showing children of all ages and colours saying, "I am Tiger Woods". On Friday, being Tiger Woods seemed almost attainable. He was in a water hazard three times and on Muirfield Village's par three 16th Woods hit his tee shot into a bunker, carried the sand shot over the green, and then fluffed the chip back.

The three over par 75 he shot on Friday was his worst score since the second round of the Tour Championship last October, when he carded a 78 following his father's emergency trip to the hospital with chest pains. This was the first time Tiger had even come close to missing a cut in his 18 events as a professional and, ironically, he needed an assist from Fuzzy Zoeller to make the cut on the number.

Zoeller, whom Woods has, at least for public consumption, forgiven for comments at the Masters, had a 12-foot putt for birdie on the 18th hole on Friday afternoon. The ball, dead on line, needed another inch of roll in order to send Woods back to Orlando for the weekend.

Rather than finishing tied for 70th after two rounds, a weekend home might have been Woods's preferred scenario. With rain predicted for Ohio, and a 15-stroke gap between himself and the leader Scott Hoch, Woods, who plays only to win, could be forgiven for not relishing the thought of another 36 holes.

"My swing is just not there," Woods said on Friday. "I know exactly what I'm doing, it's just a matter of stopping it."

He admitted to some fatigue. Since returning to competition he has won once, come close once, and has pulled in $20m (pounds 12.5m), taking his off- course endorsements to an estimated $99.2m. He also played in a one-day charity pro-am for a fee of $1.3m.

He has been on the cover of every magazine in America, with the possible exceptions of Ski Country and Ladies Home Journal. A recent survey, found the only more popular American to be retired Gen Colin Powell. In grocery stores, Woods has to steel himself for autograph requests from the produce aisle to frozen foods. The last time he filled his car with petrol he escaped with just five autographs. "There's a price to pay now," Woods says. "But I've accepted that."

The first rain suspension yesterday caught him on the putting green, seven minutes prior to his third-round start. An hour and 10 minutes later he finally teed off, cutting Hoch's advantage to 14 strokes with a birdie on his first hole. A few minutes later, Hoch really made himself vulnerable with bogeys at the first two holes to let Woods get to within 12, before play was called off.