The Tiger Woods Era is over, and it happened at last week's U.S. Open.
From now on, Woods is merely an historic figure, same as Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus, even if he's still playing. He's no longer relevant as a contending player, but just a guy filling up his time until he's eligible to play on the seniors tour.
Sure, people are still interested in Tiger, but mostly as a celebrity. Two things that happened this past week marked the end of an era in which Woods was the pre-eminent player in the sport of golf.
First, Tiger's own atrocious play made him a pathetic and sympathetic figure - two words heretofore never associated with him. At least at the Masters Woods lurked at the fringe of the leaderboard even if he wasn't contending for the green jacket (though self-deludedly he thought he was). On the treacherous slopes of Chambers Bay, the only suspense was whether he'd break 80.
We saw Tiger chunk shot after shot, including one where his club flew farther backward than his ball did forward. We saw him fell on his behind trying to find his ball in the tall fescue. We saw him finish ahead of just three players in a field of 156.
What's worse was his post-round press conference. Some might like the kinder, humbler version of Tiger when in the old days he'd skulked off after a bad round, but what happened Thursday was absurd. After shooting a ghastly 80, Tiger deadpanned that "at least I kicked butt" of playing partner Rickie Fowler, who shot an 81.
Tiger Woods has officially become a farce.
The second thing that happened is that golf no longer needs Tiger to be interesting. There's this kid that did things that even Woods couldn't do in his heyday. Jordan Spieth won two majors at the age of 21 and now has a chance to become the first man to win the calendar year Grand Slam in the Masters era.
The Sunday prime time drama was compelling, to be sure, giving Fox a TV ratings boost despite an uneven performance in its first Open telecast. By the end of Sunday no one was talking about Tiger and his travails -- they were all too busy dissecting Dustin Johnson's colossal choke and Spieth's chances at the British Open.
But Tiger was old news even before that. While Fox stayed with Woods for most of his round of 80 on Thursday (well, who could take their eyes off a train wreck like that?), the network virtually abandoned him on Friday. It was somewhat unprecedented, but Fox executives were confident in their calculation that people would still tune in to watch players other than Woods. They proved correct.
Golf now not only has a new hero but also a phalanx of superstars. On the star-studded final U.S. Open leaderboard, five of the top nine finishers were former major winners. And as spectacular as Spieth has been, he's still not the No. 1-ranked golfer in the world. That would be Rory McIlroy, who has twice as many major championships as Spieth and just finished in the top 10 of a major for a fourth straight time and sixth in his past seven.
Which renders the No. 205-ranked golfer irrelevant except on the gossip pages and to people who are really into Schadenfreude. Woods last finished in the top 10 of any official tournament back in September 2013, and his last victory came a month before that. Adding further insult, for the first time since he turned pro in 1996, Tiger is not the highest-earning golfer, having been surpassed by Phil Mickelson last year - according to Forbes.
A month from now at the British Open, the focus of fans and media alike will be on Spieth's quest for the Grand Slam, and also the budding rivalry of Spieth and McIlroy, who between them own all four major trophies currently but have yet to go mano-a-mano down the stretch in any. Only a foolish punter would put a quid on Tiger winning at St. Andrews, knowing he's more likely to finish last in the field than first.
Chances are, Woods won't even show up at the Home of Golf. With his swing completely in a shambles, he might decide to sit out the last two majors before turning 40 in December, in the hopes of rehabilitating his mind and game. But either way, Tiger Woods will no longer be a headliner at a significant golf tournament. His time is now past.
Golf has moved on.