PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. - Tiger Woods must be kicking himself for dropping out of Stanford two years early. If this golf career doesn't work out for him, he doesn't even have a college degree to fall back on.
OK, his game is not that bad.
But it sure can be made to seem that way.
It's hard to believe it was only six weeks ago when Woods went through yet another coronation. He rallied from five shots behind and won the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a birdie putt on the final hole. He was one month into his return from major knee surgery that kept him out of competition for eight months.
And what has he done lately?
Woods tied for sixth at the Masters. He was within one shot of the lead going to the back nine at Quail Hollow, closed with nothing but pars and finished fourth. He was in the final group Sunday at The Players Championship, five shots behind Alex Cejka, then made bogeys from the pine straw, rough and sand on the front nine and wound up in eighth place.
For any other player, that four-week record would make him one of the hottest players in golf. For Woods, it's bordering on a slump.
'What has he won, 11 of his last 18?' Paul Goydos said. 'Yeah, I'm really concerned about this flash in the pan.'
This is nothing new.
A week after Woods won the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black for his eighth major championship, Golf Digest ran an online survey asking if he would break Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors, and 73 percent said yes. Two years later, after Woods had gone eight majors without winning, the magazine posed the same question, and 71 percent said no.
Woods once said the media tend to exaggerate when he plays poorly - and when he plays well.
But it's his own fault.
Woods is the one who set outrageous standards by winning the career Grand Slam at age 24, by winning one U.S. Open by 15 shots and another on one good leg. He has never lost a PGA Tour event when leading by more than one shot going into the final round. And his 66 victories on the PGA Tour are one more than the next six players combined in the world rankings.
He contributes to the expectations by what he says.
Woods now has 16 consecutive top 10s in stroke play, a streak that was mentioned to him after the Masters.
'I have a hard time looking at it that way,' he said. 'It's just the nature of how I am. You want to try and win every event you play in, and obviously, I haven't done that this year.'
Perhaps there are so many questions about his game because he played in the final group and listened to the cheers ahead of him, not around him. Then again, he did that at back-to-back majors in 2007 (Masters, U.S. Open.)
Or maybe because it was three straight weeks when he had a chance to win on the back nine. One of the NBC analysts Sunday could not recall Woods playing so badly with a chance to win, meaning he wasn't watching the week before at Quail Hollow.
It still was shocking to see him fall out of contention so early, especially watching Cejka melt in the steamy conditions.
'I think you guys got to cut him a little bit of slack at times,' Henrik Stenson said after his flawless 66 to win at Sawgrass. 'He can't win every week, even though he obviously wants it.'
Cejka, who watched his five-shot lead turn into an eight-shot deficit, couldn't help but notice that Woods didn't hit very many good shots. He was no less astounded by the 1-over 73 on Woods' card.
'It should have been 5 over the way he kind of played,' Cejka said. 'But he's a grinder, you know?'
Even so, the pressure will build.
Woods' next scheduled start is the Memorial, where he is a three-time winner, but not since 2001. Then comes his return to Bethpage Black for the U.S. Open, where he won by three shots in 2002 and will be expected to do something similar.
It's always best to look at Woods as a portrait instead of a snapshot.
One golf magazine once ran a picture of Woods on the cover with a headline, 'What's wrong with Tiger?' Within months, he ran off consecutive victories at Bay Hill, The Players Championship and the Masters.
'I'll fix it,' Woods said as he left Sawgrass.
Remember, he has played only six times since being gone for eight months. It might be best to wait until the majors are over to see what kind of progress Woods has made after being away for so long.
Or maybe he'll win the U.S. Open, and everyone will wonder what the fuss was all about.
You can be sure though that the only people who aren't the least bit concerned about Woods are the guys he is trying to beat.
'This will be just another motivational tactic for him,' Goydos said. 'The more this happens, the worse it will be when the putts fall and when he stops having to hit left-handed. He's going to kill us even more. We're all going to be Rory Sabbatini and Stephen Ames for three months. And I haven't even said a word.'