Roy Curtis: Watching Tiger Woods tumble into the void has become a voyeuristic blood-sport
By the end he looked as forlorn as the splintered skeleton of a galleon entombed in the ocean floor.
If the genius of Tiger Woods has been ebbing away for some time in the way of a slowly departing tide, any last remnants of the old greatness were surely washed into Puget Sound next to Chambers Bay Golf Club by the pitiless undertow of time.
On the downdraft of terrible decline, Woods completed the first round of the US Open three shots adrift of a 15-year-old.
On the 15th anniversary of his defining masterpiece at Pebble Beach – when, touched by divinity, he took his favoured code to an entirely new dimension – he had the incredulous air of an immortal being force-fed great spoonfuls of mortality.
The Tiger sits a distant 152nd , a lonely afterthought in a world he once owned; a mite of dust flicked off the lapel of joint leaders Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson; lapped by just about everyone else in the second major of the summer.
It is no longer the pursuit of Jack Nicklaus and his 18 majors that consumes Woods but the search for some kind of golfing sanity.
This was like watching Michael Phelps reduced to the lunges of a drowning man; or Lionel Messi all at once incapable of reaching double figures in keepy-uppy.
Were he to return two of his last three cards – the 80 here alongside the 85 in the third round of the Memorial a fortnight ago – to his local club in Florida, the handicap secretary would surely take pity and permit him to play off 12 in the monthly medal.
Even then you might be reluctant to take a betting slip and write down the name that once seemed less a gamble and more a blue chip investment.
This is the most brutal theatre; watching Woods tumble into the void has become a kind of voyeuristic blood-sport; the temptation is to slip on a black armband.
What we are witnessing is the stripping down of brilliance, the euthanising of a supreme talent, inspiration deflating like yesterday’s spent balloon.
It is cruel, relentless, inexorable and – if you remember the days when devouring his opposition came as naturally to him as the intake of oxygen – a deeply sombre affair.
The sigh of the Tiger has become the soundtrack of his increasingly feeble attempts to apply any kind of handbrake to what we can now surely declare a terminal decline.
Even listening to him being interviewed has become an uncomfortable exercise.
Once untouchable inside his armour-plated arrogance, he now sounds faintly delusional, clinging to a lost past, unable or unwilling to recognise the new truth: like one of those Japanese soldiers who fought on years after World War Two had ended.
Tiger too appears oblivious to the ceasefire. His genius has been decommissioned, swallowed up by the rush of changing times, but he simply cannot surrender to reality.
The torment associated with such an acknowledgement appears too much for somebody ever striving to live up to his father, Earl’s, prediction that his child would “do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity”.
He turns 40 in December – still six years younger than Nicklaus when he conquered Augusta for the final time in 1986 – but the only life that is beginning is one of unbearable ordinariness.
It as if the heavens are taking revenge for all they gave to his early thrilling years, fast-tracking Woods to the disappointments of the mundane everyday.
He has become, as one commentator noted, the artist formerly known as Tiger.
To stretch that image, the prince has been reduced to a chaotic squiggle, the symbol of helplessness.
Stuck on 14 majors, confounded by the kind of vulnerability he never envisioned in those days when he went into battle as well tooled as any Swat team, groping helplessly for the old certainties, Woods has been forsaken by the golfing gods.
Where once he glided without turbulence, he is now that splintered galleon; a broken wreck whose mainsail will never again you have to believe feel the surge of a helping wind.