Tiger’s lumbering comeback is a lot to process
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

Tiger Woods

Barring a near miracle, Tiger Woods is likely nearing the end of yet another forgettable season, where he’s missed three cuts, withdrawn and placed in the top-25 just once in eight starts. OK, so he hasn’t played much, but the times he has have been pretty painful to watch as of late.

Woods, who has the dual role of host and player at this week’s Quicken Loans National at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Virginia, voiced his frustration in his press conference Tuesday — just ten days after missing the cut at the Open Championship at St Andrews, where he had hoisted the Claret Jug twice before in decisive victories in 2000 and 2005. 

“It’s frustrating not to be able to win golf tournaments,” said Woods. “I’m not really there in contention very often and so that part is frustrating. But I know how close it feels and I know that I just need a couple shots here and there and it turns the tide. Every time I’ve had those opportunities I haven’t done it. I remember haven’t capitalized on it and people don’t really realize how close it has been between a person who is winning and a person missing the cut. It’s not as big a gap as people might think…

“There’s more guys with a chance to win a golf tournament going into the weekend. It’s even become more of a razor’s edge between somebody finishing 70th and somebody finishing 1st. Obviously I got to cleanup my rounds, convert the opportunities that I have and I just haven’t done it and hopefully I can do it this week.”

Woods has repeatedly preached in public that he remains true to his “process” — that he’s not far off from returning to overzealous fist-pumping and adding more hardware to his trophy collection. Between the overhaul of his swing and rehab from back surgery, Woods described the combination as the “perfect storm” that has impeded his return to form.

“I didn’t think it would take this long because I thought I would have my short game earlier, which I didn’t at the very beginning of the year and so you can cover up a lot of different things when you’re chipping and putting well,” said Woods. “A lot of missteps throughout the years when I’ve changed coaches and techniques, my short game was all pretty good. I didn’t have it at the beginning of the year and hence I had to spend more time hitting golf balls than chipping and putting and so that process of scoring has taken a lot longer because of that.

“But things are starting to come together. Again, I’m sticking with it, sticking with the process and just trying to make progress each and everyday.”

Well, at least he’s trying to sound optimistic. However, he’s discouraged that he’s been unable to get the most out of his game and turn what would have been scores over par into under par rounds.

“I’ve gone through this (swing changes) and unfortunately sometimes I have to get a little bit worse before I can make a giant stride to get forward,” said Woods. “Has it been fun going through this? No, it hasn’t because I’m not scoring obviously. I’m not making that one key up and down or a bad shot instead of hitting it on a spot where I can’t play.

“Rounds that should be from 74 or so which I used to shoot turn into 70s, they’re turning into 74s if not a little bit higher. So, that’s the unfortunate thing about scoring. You need to have those opportunities and I’ve had chances to make those runs and I just haven’t done it.”

Woods, who was always known for his ability to grind and post a score even when he didn’t have his A-game, appears to have lost that special knack that separated him from the best of the rest.

“It’s just a matter of making a key putt here or there, my bad shot instead of being unplayable is playable where I can make a par or make a birdie, things of that nature,” he said. “I just haven’t done that.”

Has he lost the magic? Or perhaps it’s the desire?

Following his early exit at the Open, Woods took his kids to the Bahamas and spent a week exploring various islands and spear-fishing. He didn’t touch a club for a week. He spends a good amount of his free time playing soccer with his kids. This is all normal for a 39-year-old dad of two, and it appears that Woods is exceptional at attending to his fatherly duties.

Either way, he’s still looking to get back to his winning ways, especially now that he claims he’s 100% healthy after struggling through recovery and dealing with rehab from back surgery over the last year and change.

“I haven’t scored very well,” said Woods. “I missed cuts. I haven’t done much in the last couple years and so I haven’t played a whole lot of golf in the last couple years. That’s what Joey (LaCava) keeps reminding me of, ‘Would you just relax? You haven’t played that much. You think about it, the times you have played and when you’ve been healthy how many tournaments have you been healthy at? It’s not that big a number.’

“Also he keeps reminding me you won five times two years ago and so it’s not that far removed. So, hopefully I can start playing the way that I know I can play and start gaining some Ws again.”

Unfortunately, Woods, who is now the 266th ranked golfer in the world, will need that to happen soon, like, this week if he wants to extend his season beyond the PGA Championship — or simply get into the field at next week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, which he’s won eight times. Did you ever think you’d see a season where Woods hasn’t qualified for two WGC events? Bizarro.

Good news is that his tournament has a relatively weak field, with only three players in the top 20 — Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker. So you’re saying there’s a chance… Well, not really.

Woods will play in the PGA Championship in two weeks time and then he may make another start at the Wyndham Championship, the last event of the regular season. His chances of qualifying for the FedEx Cup playoffs appear rather slim, as well. Save for a miraculous turnaround, Woods’ season will come to an end before the end of August. The new season kicks off in mid-October with the Frys.com Open, where it’s rumored that Woods will be making a start.

For now, we’ll continue to watch the despair, yet still yearn for some glimmer — any sign of hope — that Woods is ready to turn the corner with his game, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.