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Mojo fallin'

Tiger Woods's tail is between his legs after the worst 72 holes of his career.

After years of dominating opponents psychologically and technically, it seems time and outside factors have caught up with Tiger Woods.

Since the end of the last century he had honed not just his golfing game but also his mastery of the art of mental warfare to a point where his rivals were filled with a sense of dread whenever they played in a tournament he was in. Not that Woods would or could win every time he played; unlike tennis, say, the game of golf's idiosyncrasies make it difficult for the best of the best to prevail on any given day, as Roger Federer did at his peak.

What Federer and Woods shared, though, was the hold they had on rivals. They were well versed in both visibly and imperceptibly dictating the course of a contest through their mental games and the power of their reputations. The Australian cricketers have been doing this for years, certainly in the test arena, and the All Blacks are having a similar effect on their opposition, especially on the Wallabies, after nine straight victories.

Although Federer has found father time and younger rivals more and more of a challenge, Woods's previously impenetrable mental state has been forced to give way to well-documented demons. They've clearly messed with his mind and, as if through osmosis, have now permeated his game, which fell apart at the Bridgestone Invitational at Akron, Ohio. This is a tournament he has almost owned in recent years. Yet over a humiliating four days, Woods completed the worst 72 holes of his career on the US PGA tournament, shooting an 18 over par total of 298.

This seemed unthinkable, because of all the world's pre-eminent athletes, Woods has always appealed as having the most astounding mental strength to work in union with his extraordinary talent. It has enabled him to zone in on the moment, to focus relentlessly on what he needed to do on the course in any circumstance. Not any more.

So many other athletes have fallen foul of outside influences that affected their ability to allow their genius to do the talking for them. Think George Best and Paul Gascoigne. Others have been unable to resist the lure of forbidden agents to illegally enhance their performances. Think Ben Johnson, Marion Jones and Floyd Landis (plus a fair few more who find themselves the subjects of suspicion at the moment).

Woods has lost his ability to impose himself on a tournament and on his opponents the way he used to. It might be tempting to suggest he will never regain his mojo, but that would be both reckless and premature. Any athlete with Woods's all-round gifts can never be discounted, not least in golf where, at only 34, he has many years in front of him if he retains the desire and rediscovers his inner belief and poise.

Even at his worst, though, Woods still wielded some influence at the Bridgestone Invitational. With his game in tatters, Phil Mickelson had a gift opportunity to end Woods's unbroken 269 weeks as the world's top player, but he fluffed his lines. So Woods remains at the top of the heap, although it's anything but an accurate reflection of reality.