Golf was on the box Sunday afternoon, coming at you live from Torrey Pines in California. The grass was green. The ocean was blue. Some people named Jason Day, Harris English and J.B. Holmes were out there hitting balls around in short-sleeve shirts and sunglasses.
From the vantage point of Dead O' Winter, USA, it all looked impossibly fantastical, a world where the colors came at you in chunks so bright they hurt your eyes, accustomed as they've become to the gray and white palette of February.
Or, as it's known in these parts, Bleeping February.
Bleeping February looked pretty darn non-Bleeping out there in Torrey Pines, and maybe that was why you didn't really notice who wasn't there. Didn't really notice that Tiger Woods, whom the network suits keep insisting is golf in the flesh, was MIA again.
In actuality this time, instead of merely by circumstance.
Truth is, at 38, Tiger is yesterday's news, no matter how the teevees keep thrusting him upon us. If he still moves the needle for the golf audience, it's largely nostalgia that fuels it, plus the unending media obsession that keeps making him the story even when he's not.
And mostly these days, he's not. He's a golfer with a bad back pushing 40, is what he is. Last week he shot an 82 and missed the cut. This weekend, he tweaked his surgical back again and had to withdraw from a tournament he's won eight times. It was the third time in his last nine tournaments he's had to quit the course.
Right now, who knows when he'll return, or what shape his game will be in when he does. Or if it matters at all outside the sphere of the teevees, given that right now he stands 62nd in the world golf
rankings, down there with the Graham Delaets and Kevin Streelmans of the world.
The bare truth of it is, he's not Tiger Woods anymore. He's a guy trying to find a swing that won't make his back scream like an actress in a horror flick, same as a lot of hackers and machete artists out there. His short game's a mess. His putter works the way a 38-year-old's putter always works, which is intermittently. He's ... well, nothing special.
Only the golf fans and the teevees chasing the ghost of what he once was make it look like he still is.
For everyone else, the game has moved on. Jason Day's the guy to watch now. Rory McIlroy. Rickie Fowler and Adam Scott and Bubba Watson and a dozen or so others.
He's still got some game. If he ever gets healthy enough for long enough, he may still win a tournament or two here or there. But his day as a force in the game is done.
No matter how long the teevees wait in the parking lot for him, hoping for a word after his latest 82. Or his latest withdrawal.