KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C.
It would not have been a shock if Tiger Woods had pulled away from the field and won the PGA Championship after he was tied for first on Friday. Hey, he still is Tiger Woods.
Then again, it was even less of a shock that he tumbled on the weekend. That is where it stands: It still is safe to assume he is the No. 1 personality in the game. It is just not safe to assume he is going to win.
He is back to having to prove himself in majors, instead of making everyone else prove they can keep up with him. It could mean that Woods needs a putting coach, because his putter failed him again. It might mean that he needs to be more confident. Maybe he still needs to be more humble.
Any way you look at it, another major has gone by without him winning, or coming close. He has gone four years without one -- a drought longer than any Jack Nicklaus had until he was 40 (after winning the 1980 PGA Championship by seven strokes, a tournament-record margin that stood until Sunday).
What we saw this week was something new. Yes, there was excitement when Woods tied for the lead Friday. But there was no early coronation, as there had been as recently as June, when he was in the same situation at the U.S. Open.
When fellow co-leader Carl Pettersson appeared at a news conference Friday, no one asked if he was concerned about the specter of Tiger Woods on the leader board. That used to be a standard question, and honest players would admit it looked like a real problem. This observer recalls hearing, before the first round of the 2000 PGA at Valhalla, Ernie Els saying of Woods, "He's probably going to win."
He was right. But that was a long time ago.
Woods said the other day that, considering Nicklaus won his 18th major as a 46-year-old, Woods has 10 years to win four more and tie Nicklaus' record.
It might not be so easy. For starters, Woods must relearn to take charge. He did not break par in any weekend round at a major this year. Sunday, his tee shots went left, his putts went right and nothing went great. He just could not turn it on, finishing with a par 72 in the fourth round and a 2-under-par 286 total for the tournament, 11 strokes out of first.
"The thing is, to keep putting myself there," he said. "I'm not going to win them all and I haven't won them all. But the key is putting myself there each and every time and, you know, I'll start getting them again."
For years to come, he likely will have to deal with Rory McIlroy, who dominated Sunday the way Woods used to. McIlroy secured his second major before his 24th birthday, as both Nicklaus and Woods did. Plus, there is a platoon of other golfers capable of having one solid week.
What this means for the sport is anyone's guess. Maybe it will merely heighten the suspense, with people wondering, "When will Tiger finally win another one?" Or maybe the public will begin to lose interest.
The tournament that ended Sunday would have taken a whole different dynamic had Woods won. It would not have been marked the way it was, as a strained championship on an oddball course, with a wacky rule about bunkers, scheduled hideously on an island that has only one road going in and out. Play was stopped by a storm at 4:50 p.m. Saturday, and there was still a huge traffic jam at 9.
A win by Woods would have eclipsed all of that. He still has cachet that no one else does. But does he still have the finishing touch? He has to prove that.