PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Tiger Woods' body language after clunky shots, as he staggered down the backstretch Sunday behind a beaming and visor-tipping Phil Mickelson, was that of a kindergartner whose parents just told him his fingerpainting lacks originality.
Woods, once the king of Sunday, got Sunday-punched. He went into the final day of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am four shots off the lead and two strokes ahead of archnemesis Mickelson.
Mickelson shot 64 to win. Woods shot 75 to tie for 15th.
Woods wore a Sunday power-red shirt, and once again, he finished alone atop the fashion leaderboard. But golf-wise, Woods was a shlump. He took a beating. On an overcast day at Pebble, only four of the 68 golfers shot higher than Woods' 75.
"I just could not get comfortable," Woods said.
If only he had the attitude expressed by comic Billy Crystal impersonating the late Ricardo Montalban: "It's better to look good than to feel good."
Uncomfortable on Sunday? For one entire decade, Sunday was Woods' personal palm-tree hammock. Now he squirms. This Sunday, for him, was burlap boxers.
On Woods' private list of grating and deflating career losses, this one probably earned a rating of five snapped putters. This was a big, big win for Mickelson and a big, big non-win for Woods.
One TV guy blabbed Sunday morning that Woods, if he won, "could shut everyone up, he could put the scandal behind him."
OK, that's a stretch. But no doubt, Sunday was a huge opportunity blown for Woods. For one thing, he could have pulled the plug on the imaginary clock.
Today is the 29-month anniversary of Woods' last official PGA Tour win, in 2009. Tick, tock.
"People think it's a couple of years (since he won a tourney)," Woods said after his round, "but I won just a couple months ago. I look at that as a win. And I'm just kind of off to my first start of the year here in the States, and I made some good improvement this week ... "
That win to which he referred was in a tournament with 18 golfers.
If Woods thinks he can brush aside the talk about his non-winning streak, he might ask Dale Earnhardt Jr. if anyone ever mentions Junior's 110-race non-winning streak.
What it comes down to now with Tiger Woods is faith -- his and yours.
Is Woods really on the brink of a major comeback, as he claims? Is he trying to convince us? Is he trying to convince himself?
Woods says he is finally healthy and able to get back to heavy practicing. He says his new swing, designed by coach Sean Foley, is close to being grooved.
In his previous tournament, at Abu Dhabi, Woods shared the lead after three rounds, then finished in a tie for third. He melted down at Pebble on Sunday, so his comeback talk can sound a bit like your eccentric uncle who keeps bragging he's going to make a million with his new invention.
"Everything is kind of headed in the right direction," Woods said Tuesday, "so I'm very excited about that."
By Sunday afternoon, the excitement had waned. Woods walked the 17th fairway grim as a condemned man. Mickelson marched ahead, alone, basking in the love.
Waiting at the 18th tee, Woods seemed to have accepted the beat-down. He joshed with Dustin Johnson. On the 18th green, Woods smilingly acknowledged the cheers, and he was unruffled and upbeat afterward.
He presents himself as a phenomenal golfer who endured a two-year setback, and he is confident he can reclaim his greatness.
Maybe, but what if the reality is that Woods, at 36, is fated to fade to mortality, to be a really good player who wins here and there but mostly has to do what pro golfers do -- scuffle?
Of course, that was the book on Mickelson until this week. Washed up at 41. He hired coaches to work on his body and his head, got some putting help from Butch Harmon (a former Woods coach), straightened out some family stuff and, voila! A triumph Sunday, and a bright new outlook.
"Watching (Woods) play today, it's going to change in one week," Mickelson said. "You could see, it's such a night-and-day difference. ... He never hooked a shot. He used to hook, you were waiting for it, and now he's just striping it right at his target with a tiny little fade, just like he used to do.
"And his iron play looked extremely sharp. I know the score wasn't what he wanted, and I know he didn't putt the way he wanted to, but you could tell that he's really close and all it takes is one week."
Just not this week.