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Rarefied error

MIAMI – When last seen in public, Tiger Woods was excavating Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill property Sunday, one chop at a time, 43 in all on the inward nine. This was a rare meltdown, of course, something more associated with a 15-handicapper than with a world No. 1.

Rapid rewind isn’t his modus operandi when sniffing a Sunday lead. Usually he has shark tendencies when smelling blood, and we’re talking Jaws rather than Greg Norman. As if you didn’t already know he’s as serious as a surgeon on Sundays, consider that he led the PGA Tour in final-round scoring average each of the last two years. A barf bag isn’t standard equipment.

Last time Woods unraveled like that when on a Sabbath leaderboard, he was a skinny rookie who made a quad at the Quad Cities and made Ed (The Grip) Fiori a beneficiary with a story the grandkids might not believe.

Woods shot 43 once before, back in that same fall of ’97, after his father took ill in Tulsa. And only once has he shot a higher final round on Tour, a 77 at Bay Hill nine years ago, eerily enough after an opening 64 – like this most recent time. Loose and Woods aren’t usual bedfellows, on course or off, where he’s not prone to wearing a lamp shade at parties.

I am fairly certain Tiger Woods’ career won’t be ruined by that bogey-double bogey-triple bogey water ride at the finish. Limb walker that I am, I’m betting he’ll bounce back from something that was aberration rather than trend. And he might do so this week at Doral, one of his favorite playgrounds where he has won here the last two years.

Golf’s dominator left Bay Hill without comment, which is understandable because not many on the double bogey bus are in the mood to chat. But he addressed his woe today and pronounced himself fixed, not that anyone in the know was suspecting anything irreparable. The Masters is in two weeks, and you can expect a finely tuned cat on the 10th anniversary of his 12-stroke cruise there.

“Yeah, I’ve definitely fixed it,” Woods said of the blowup, “but you know it was just frustrating because I made some uncharacteristic mistakes with my club selection on some of the holes. … You look back at the finish, and I hit bad shots. But all throughout the entire tournament, I kept making silly mistakes, mistakes I don’t normally make. … I probably should have been right next to the lead, if not leading, if I didn’t make those silly mistakes.”

Unlikely messes, yes. The only unforced errors that normally shadow Woods are those of his defeated opponents.

Woods, though, hardly went into a dark room with a brown-tinted bottle afterward. Rather, he went back to his laboratory, tackled the kinks and then headed for his boat. He had dinner on the craft with none other than his tennis counterpart, Roger Federer, on Tuesday night. Since I was somehow not invited, I can only guess that the first topic of discussion wasn’t the end of Federer’s 41-match winning streak or Woods’ Bay Hill blowup.

Superstars hang out with superstars. That’s the way life works, I suppose. Robin Leach types hobnob with Robin Leach types and schlepping sportwriters hang out with fellow schlepping sportwriters, mustard-stained shirt optional.

Federer, in town for a tennis tournament Woods plans to attend one night, even came out to the course Wednesday to follow his rich and famous pal on the back nine. As if we didn’t know long before Paris Hilton, fame has its privilege, for Woods arranged for Federer to tag along inside the ropes.

Woods said the Tour probably will fine him for that, though anyone who can get someone of Federer’s stature out to a Wednesday practice round should merit a bonus rather than a docking. Woods, of course, could afford any sort of fine, seven figures, eight figures. Point is, in this era of sound bytes and video blogs, he did more marketing for golf by that one gesture than the suits of Ponte Vedra could do with any sort of slick packaging.

“I don’t mind paying because he was starting to get hassled pretty good and that’s not why he came out here,” Woods said. “He came out here to enjoy himself and watch me slap it around a little bit.”

Slap?

That was last week. Expect shots closer to the clubface this time.

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