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These are file photos by year showing Tiger Woods, starting in 1994 and ending with a 2017 photo provided by the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office on Monday, May 29, 2017. Tiger Woods attributed an "unexpected reaction" to prescription medicine for his arrest on a DUI charge that landed him in a Florida jail Monday for nearly four hours. Woods, the 14-time major champion who had back surgery five weeks ago, was arrested on suspicion of DUI at about 3 a.m. Monday and taken to Palm Beach County jail. He was released on his own recognizance. (AP Photo/File)

I feel sorry for Tiger Woods.

I never thought I would write those words. Never. Ever.

For the early part of his career, I never thought there would be the need. For starters, there was that obscene amount of athletic talent, maybe the most in the history of professional golf. Yes, Tiger could drive for show. But he could also chip and putt for dough. We may never again witness a more complete package of skill and guile and golf guts than Eldrick Tont Woods in his youthful prime.

Then there was the charisma and the charm on those occasions he let the world see them. Oh, he could be grumpy and aloof, bordering on rude and crude. The expletives occasionally would fly, sometimes sailing right beside his offending driver or 2 iron.

But he had a smile that belonged in a Pepsodent toothpaste commercial and a brain good enough to attend Stanford. And all those attributes had his net worth soaring toward $1 billion until Thanksgiving of 2009.

That, of course, was the night Woods drove into a different kind of water hazard — a fire hydrant — in a failed attempt to escape his wife's understandable wrath after she found out he wasn't quite the loving, faithful husband she thought he was.

Elin's eventual decision to divorce Woods for his numerous indiscretions — they apparently numbered more than the 61 strokes he used to complete a PGA Tour round on four different occasions — momentarily wrecked that $1 billion march. Poor, poor Tiger. Forbes' latest estimation of his worth stands at just under $750 million. And that's with him having failed to win any PGA tournament, much less adding to his 14 major titles, since 2014.

That's not why I feel sorry for him today, however. The cheating on Elin and his children were self-inflicted wounds, a common occurrence among the rich and famous.

I might even admit to feeling that Tiger's collapse since that Thanksgiving night nearly eight years ago was somewhat deserved — karma for being a cad.

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Tiger Woods arrested on DUI charges May 29, 2017.
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FILE - In this Dec. 4, 2016, file photo, Tiger Woods reacts after a putt during the final round at the Hero World Challenge golf tournament, in Nassau, Bahamas. Police say golf great Tiger Woods has been arrested on a DUI charge in Florida. The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office says on its website that Woods was booked into a county jail around 7 a.m. on Monday, May 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

But that was before Tiger's mug shot following an early Monday morning DUI arrest in Jupiter, Fla., was made public. Before the sunken, soulless eyes, three-day-old beard and unkempt, thinning hair made me do a triple take.

This was the face of a man to be pitied more than pilloried. This was, hopefully, rock bottom for a man once thought to be the most rock-solid athlete of his generation.

Only now the story of that Memorial Day morning arrest has gotten worse, much worse. For while Woods was correct in his Monday night statement that no alcohol was involved, he was messed up enough on drugs that when he was found passed out in his car with the engine running at 3 a.m., and the police woke him up to ask him where he'd been and where he was going, he answered "L.A." and "Orange County."

And, no, we don't think he meant Lower Alabama and Orange County, Fla.

Instead, we think the four back surgeries and the divorce and the sudden realization for the 41-year-old Woods that life for a professional golfer — or any other athlete — rarely begins at 40 has taken its toll on both his body and mind.

So perhaps the pain he's dulling with prescription medicine isn't only the physical kind. Perhaps his mind aches. And his heart. And his conscience. Time may stop for no one, but too much time on one's hands can be a terrible thing for a tortured soul.

But all that's for doctors and psychiatrists and friends and loved ones to sort through.

For everyone else, given that there apparently was fresh damage and two flat tires on his car, there's the sobering realization that but for the grace of a higher power, Woods might easily have harmed far more than his reeling reputation early Monday morning. He could have seriously injured another person or multiple people. Injured them or worse.

So while it was touching to see the greatest golfer of them all, Jack Nicklaus, say of Woods on Tuesday, "He needs our help," the rest of us need something else.

We need his car keys taken from him until or unless he not only knows whether he's traveling in Florida or California, but also knows always to remain clean and sober wherever he's going when he's driving

Because no matter how sorry I feel for Tiger, it's nowhere near as sorry as we should all feel if he hurts someone other than himself the next time he passes out behind the wheel at 3 a.m., 3 p.m., or any time in between.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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