Free to Be the World's Best Golfer

Tiger Woods' failure to qualify for the FedExCup championship is a setback, for sure; but on the whole it looks as if divorce agrees with him.

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Divorce seems to agree with Tiger Woods.

That's not to suggest he faced a choice between regaining his game and restoring his marriage. Both were possible, if perhaps improbable, but he would have needed a huge assist from Elin Nordegren, now his former wife. You'd like to see couples work through the mess and rediscover happiness after traumatic discord -- especially when young children are involved. But on Aug. 23, Woods and Nordegren's union was officially dissolved, after nine months of lying in tatters for everyone to see.

Presto! Just like that, Woods experienced the best three weeks since his sordid philandering became an international obsession.

Since becoming a "free man," Woods shot his lowest score of the year (65, just three days after the divorce); played a bogey-free round for the first time in more than a year; led after a round on the PGA Tour for the first time since last September; went through an entire press conference without one mention of the broken marriage or the precipitating events; recorded three rounds in the 60s for the first time this year; managed to retain his No. 1 world ranking for the 274th consecutive week; and was selected to play in the Ryder Cup, the first time in six trips that he wasn't an automatic pick.

Don't know if he'll resume his skirt-chasing ways, but if so, he can upgrade from diner waitresses at this rate -- with a guilt-free conscience to boot!

The recent hot streak didn't carry over to the BMW Championship in Lemont, Ill., this past weekend, where he finished in a six-way tie for 15th place and failed to reach the FedExCup championship for the first time. However, even that disappointment isn't enough to dampen hopes that this new Tiger can resemble the Tiger of old. Another positive sign is his work with a swing coach, Sean Foley, after going into DIY mode this summer as his game disintegrated.

"Let's just say I've been through a lot lately, and I didn't want to have any more information," Woods told reporters as he was entering the BMW Championship. "I was trying to get adjusted to my new life and what that entailed, and it was enough as it was. I didn't have time to work on my game. I was dealing with a lot of other things."

The air of invincibility has shattered as thoroughly as the glass on his Escalade last November. We discovered that Woods isn't an automaton after all, that his steely will and laserlike focus are no match for a life turned upside down. In hindsight, it's amazing that he played well enough to tie for fourth in the Masters after a five-month layoff.

His performance over the next several tournaments -- including a missed cut and ties for 78th, 46th and 28th -- was more indicative of his personal hell. Two days after the divorce was finalized, he was asked how the imploding marriage affected his preparation. "It was a lot more difficult than I was letting on," he said.

Records revealed that Woods took out a $54.5 million mortgage on his Florida waterfront estate that very same day, with payments going to a company whose registered agent is an attorney with the firm that represented Nordegren.