UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. - Never has an all-time great athlete, one of the two or three best his sport ever has produced, fallen so far and so fast as Tiger Woods. The deterioration of his game was painfully evident to the world as he shot a first-round 10-over 80 in the U.S. Open Thursday at Chambers Bay, hitting a couple of shots that were characteristic of a common hacker.

It was Woods' worst-ever score in his 19 U.S. Open appearances, but only his third-worst this year after an 85 at The Memorial and an 82 in Phoenix. It included one swing in deep rough on No. 8 when Woods lost his grip, and the club went flying through the air. But the most ignominious moment came on the 18th hole when Woods cold-topped a 3-wood about 100 yards into a fairway bunker that would likely not be in play for any pro this week.

Woods declined a television interview but appeared in the media flash area to discuss his round. "It was a tough day," Woods said. "Got off to a bad start. I stuck that 6-iron in the ground on the first hole, and then just couldn't quite get it turned around today."

During his practice sessions on the driving range, Woods has been hitting the ball beautifully, but it didn't travel to the course at game time. "It's one of those things I've just got to work through," Woods said, referring to the swing changes he is making with coach Chris Como. "I'm trying as hard as I can to do it, and for some reason, I can't seem to get the consistency that I'd like to have."

Asked if he's convinced he's on the right path to regaining his form, Woods said he is committed. "I know when I do it right, it's so easy," Woods said. "It just feels easy to control, easy to do it, easy to hit all my shots. I just need to do it more often and build from there."

In reality, Woods made nothing look easy yesterday. Some compare it to Willie Mays struggling at the end of his career with the Mets. But the 39-year-old golfer still should be in the prime of his career.

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Woods showed he still has a sense of humor, joking, "The bright side is at least I kicked Rickie's butt today." That was a reference to playing partner Rickie Fowler, who was even worse with an 81.

Better to force the laughter on this day to keep from crying.