THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — Ian Poulter finished his final round at the World Challenge and was chatting next to the clubhouse at Sherwood when he stopped in the middle of a sentence and changed his tone to one of grave concern.
"What is Tiger doing in a buggy?" he said.
His eyes were fixed on a large video board down the hill and across the 18th fairway that showed Tiger Woods being driven away from the green in the back of a golf cart. The scene was eerily reminiscent to the start of the season at Doral, when Woods withdrew in the middle of the final round because of swelling to his left Achilles tendon.
Moments later, Poulter realized this merely was the shuttle that took players to the 14th tee at the top of a steep hill.
"I was like, 'Hang on a minute.' I thought he might have slipped down a bank and done himself in," Poulter said.
All things considered, it was a reasonable rush to judgment.
Woods has endured some strange seasons during the last few years, and this would qualify as one of them.
Go back to that Sunday afternoon at Doral when Woods was taken off the course in a cart, and the TV shot from a helicopter that showed him driving away in what might as well have been a white Bronco. It raised questions about whether he could ever be the dominant player he once had been.
And then he won his very next tournament at Bay Hill, his first PGA Tour title in more than two years.
Woods' mystique looked as if it might be returning when, at one tournament (Memorial), he faced an impossible shot and chipped in for birdie that carried him to victory. In another, he was on the ropes late in the final round until his challenger threw away a chance to beat him (Bo Van Pelt at the AT&T National).
Then there were the majors.
Woods had at least a share of the 36-hole lead in the U.S. Open and PGA Championship. Not only did he fail to win, he didn't even finish in the top 10.
For years, Woods said it could not be a great year without winning a major, and he still believes that. Throw in some extenuating circumstances, such as his physical health, and he considers 2012 to be a "pretty good accomplishment."
He won three times, which would have been considered a down year against his old standard.
So where is he now?
In about the same spot he was in this time a year ago, only for different reasons.
Going into 2012, what appeared to be holding him back from being the dominant player was his own game. Going into 2013, he doesn't look like the dominant player because of someone else — Rory McIlroy.
McIlroy was voted PGA Tour player of the year Tuesday, presumably by the kind of margin that routinely once belonged to Woods. McIlroy won a tour-high four tournaments, including a major, the money list and the Vardon Trophy for lowest scoring average. That's a dominant year.