Beacon Journal sports writer
Those who follow golf might be talking about the 2010 Bridgestone Invitational for months, if not years.
But the chatter won't center on a fantastic finish or a historic playoff, as it has of late. Instead, with apologies to winner Hunter Mahan, it might be remembered as the week Tiger Woods hit rock bottom.
And to a lesser extent, for Phil Mickelson's continuing failure to seize the moment and the world's No. 1 ranking from the floundering Woods.
Woods finished 30 shots behind Mahan and left Firestone Country Club clueless about his golf game and uninspired about his life. He has fallen into an abyss that could not be foreseen even after he drove his car into a fire hydrant on Thanksgiving night and his perfect life toppled like a house of cards.
When his marital infidelities were exposed, no one dreamed that Woods' extraordinary focus would desert him like this. He survived his father's death from cancer in May 2006. He won the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Now he's rumored to be in the final throes of divorce who dreamed he would care this much about a marriage that he neglected before?
On Sunday, Woods completed the worst tournament of his professional career with a 77, his worst in Akron. He finished 18-over par and tied for 78th in a field of 80. Perhaps making it the nadir is that it came at Firestone South, where he had won seven times, including four consecutive events, and shares the course record of 61.
Clearly, Woods was mailing it in the final two days. On Saturday, he and J.B. Holmes finished the front nine in 90 minutes. Woods didn't dawdle over shots, stepping up and whacking away at a few like John Daly. Woods bantered with Sunday's playing partner, Anthony Kim, as they repeatedly found the trees. Woods immediately headed to Wisconsin for next week's PGA Championship and joked he would have time to play 18 holes at Whistling Straits before the Bridgestone leaders teed off at 2:05 p.m.
The numbers are staggering, the kind of numbers never associated with Woods before.
He matched his highest final round score as a professional, which he previously carded in the 1998 Bay Hill Invitational. His score was his highest as a pro for 72 holes by 6 shots. He failed to shoot par or better in any of the four rounds for only the fourth time in his career. Woods has played four rounds in 218 PGA Tour events and this year's Bridgestone was only the 30th time in which he failed to finish an event with a total score of par or better.
In 13 rounds since his Saturday 66 at the U.S. Open, Woods has shot only one round under par, that in the first round at the British Open.
Asked whether golf was still fun, Woods said, ''Absolutely not. I don't see how it can be fun shooting 18-over, especially since my handicap is supposed to be zero.''
Winless in 2010, Woods compared this slump to what he went through in 1997-99 when he changed his swing with coach Butch Harmon.
''It took me two years to get it back before I started playing well,'' he said.
It's debatable whether U.S. Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin would waste one of his four picks on Woods. The chances of Woods contending next week at the PGA seem slim, but Ireland's Padraig Harrington wants to see what the all-knowing bookmakers have to say about those prospects.
''It'd be a very naive and very foolish man to write Tiger Woods off,'' Harrington said.
Steve Stricker certainly won't.
''You need some positive thoughts and a clear mind. He probably doesn't have that right now, but he'll get it,'' Stricker said. ''I've got no worries that he'll find it again and get back to where he once was.''
Woods didn't rule out another extended break, like he took from last November until the 2010 Masters. But he said on Wednesday he was playing in the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, China, in November.
''I don't know, I'm just going to be ready by Thursday,'' Woods said.
But Woods wasn't the only one who looked lost. On Sunday, he was joined by Masters champion Mickelson, who blew his chance at No. 1 for the eighth consecutive event dating to April.
Anyone longing for a duel between Woods and Mickelson got a doozy as they battled for the booby prize the day's highest round. Mickelson walked away with that one, his 8-over 78 matched by England's Simon Khan.
Mickelson entered the day 4 strokes off the lead and needed only to tie for fourth or better to claim the world's top spot, which Woods has held for 269 consecutive weeks and 611 overall. But Mickelson also turned in his highest score at Firestone, surpassing 77s in the first and fourth round of the 1993 NEC World Series of Golf.
''If I keep finishing ahead of him every week, eventually it'll happen,'' Mickelson said of Woods and the No. 1 ranking. ''But the problem is there's guys behind me that will pass me because I'm not playing well enough right now.''
The answer showed Mickelson has given the issue some thought. Perhaps he'll be boosted at Whistling Straits by the presence of his favorite cheerleader, wife Amy, who he said plans to accompany him to Wisconsin.
But both Mickelson and Woods might be pinning their hopes on ''eventually.'' And at the moment, that seems a far cry from reality.