AUGUSTA, Ga. — The aura of Tiger Woods, which was the picture of health and the envy of millions for the better part of 15 years, died peacefully over the weekend at the home of the Masters, Augusta National Golf Club.
The cause of death was ordinary fallibility.
The aura is survived by Woods himself; his caddie, the New Zealand race-car driver Steve Williams; his agent, IMG deal-maker Mark Steinberg; and his headcover, Frank, whose career died shortly after appearing in a series of irreverent television commercials circa 2004, and who has since retired to the remainders bin at a Kohl's in Orlando.
Woods's putting stroke, which produced ugly misses from four feet at the 12th and 15th holes Sunday, and which hasn't been right for years, performed last rites on the aura. It took its last wheezing breath when Woods, having tied for the lead with a front-nine 31, shot even par on the back and had his doors blown off by Adam Scott, 30, Jason Day, 23, and finally Charl Schwartzel, 26.
The hard-to-define power source succumbed despite the best efforts of swing doctor Sean Foley, who watched Woods hit a succession of incredible shots Sunday only to tie for fourth, again.
In lieu of flowers well-wishers may donate to the Tiger Woods Foundation and/or help pay Stevie's race-entry fees.
Friends, relatives and incalculable beneficiaries of the aura recalled Sunday how it had made its way from early notoriety in Southern California — it appeared on the Mike Douglas Show almost at birth, with the comedian Bob Hope — to its three U.S. Junior championships, three U.S. Amateur championships and 14 major professional titles.
It was worshipped and emulated from Northern Ireland to Venezuela and points yet unknown, leaving its imprint on pro tours in America, Europe and beyond. It changed the economy of golf, and redefined sports-marketing. It made entire careers, and covered the private-school tuition for the children of anonymous PGA Tour golfers.
The aura proved as resilient at the end as it was at the start, bouncing back quickly after taking its first hit when Woods lost to Ed Fiori at the Quad Cities in 1996. Later defeats at the hands of Thomas Bjorn, Mike Weir and Costantino Rocca also were forgotten, and few Americans faulted the aura's surprising failure to appear at six Ryder Cups.
Insiders speculate that the aura had been locked in a years-long standoff with Woods's left knee, which has been operated on four times and appeared to give Woods pain as he hit his approach shot to the 18th hole Sunday. Woods used cortisone to broker a truce at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, where the aura reached its absolute apex.
At least some of the damage was self-inflicted. Having been leveraged to facilitate a breathtaking run of mating games, the aura led to private tumult and public shame for Woods, who temporarily stopped feeding it on a brief apology tour. Already wobbly after Y.E. Yang upended Woods at the 2009 PGA Championship, the aura suffered, and took a bad fall as Graeme McDowell beat Woods in extra holes at the Chevron Challenge in December. It had been pushed around in a wheelchair for much of 2011.
Several experts believed the aura could be saved as recently as last week, when it strutted into Augusta as if it were unchanged from the aura that helped Woods win the green jacket in 1997, 2001, '02 and '05. Woods shot a second-round 66, and a final-round 67, but Schwartzel and the others didn't care. The aura was gone, its last act giving CBS the second highest final-round ratings in 10 years.
Services will be held at an undisclosed time at Woods's South Florida estate. A second service for the rest of the PGA Tour is expected be observed when commissioner Tim Finchem finalizes the next network TV deal.
In other news, the Augusta Chronicle headline last week, "It's Lefty's to Lose," has prompted a formal inquiry from the Irish Golf Union over who owns the rights and privileges of losing the world's most prestigious tournament.