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‘Room for improvement’: After two shaky rounds and a missed cut at Riviera, Tiger Woods acknowledges there’s work to do

February 17, 2018

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — Tiger Woods has the weekend off, but he confirmed his plans to play next week at the Honda Classic in South Florida.

Woods missed just the 17th cut of his illustrious career Friday at the Genesis Open, signing for a five-over 76 and a 36-hole aggregate of six-over 148.

“My cut was just not cutting,” Woods said. “It was just one of those things.”

Blue skies and a warming sun at Riviera Country Club drew a gallery teeming with fans of all ages, some in “Make Tiger Great Again” T-shirts. It was easily the largest crowd at Riviera in recent memory. But a promising early start for Woods of two birdies in his first five holes dissolved into a scorecard littered with eight bogeys, including three in a row beginning at the 11th. The long, uphill climb to the fairway at the famed 18th hole at Riviera served as the perfect metaphor of the work Woods still requires.

As bad as his driving had been at Torrey Pines and during the first round at the Riv, Woods’s iron game was the primary culprit for his erratic play on Friday. It was surprising to see him dump an easy wedge from 117 yards into the front right bunker at the 9th, and it wasn’t his only careless mistake. In all, Woods hit just 16 greens in regulation, the lowest total through 36 holes in his career. Woods complained that he failed to hit his irons pin high, something that has been a hallmark of his career.

“I kept missing it above the hole and that’s what was ticking me off,” Woods said. “All the spots you’re supposed to not miss it in I was putting it in, and that was frustrating.”

And so Riviera continues to be his personal Kryptonite. It is the only PGA Tour venue that he has played more than 10 tournaments on without a victory.

But in the bigger picture, the most promising news on Friday relating to this rendition of the Tiger Woods comeback trail is that he feels good enough to play two consecutive weeks. While Woods was busy playing the 8th hole, the Tour announced that he had committed to play the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., next week. If he tees it up on Thursday, it will mark the first time that Woods has played in back-to-back tournaments since the 2015 PGA Championship and Wyndham Championship.

Woods needs reps, to use his vernacular. His every move is geared to being ready for the Masters in April. As he attempts to rebuild his confidence for another run at a major, Woods believing he has the stamina to play regularly is a positive sign, said CBS golf commentator Nick Faldo.

“He wants to get back and feel if he’s got it again,” Faldo said. “That will be the biggest buzz if he can get through all of this and play well enough to get in contention on a Sunday afternoon and hang with kids half his age.”

But as long as he is grinding out cuts as he did at Torrey Pines and missing by a bunch as he did at Riviera, he won’t know the answer to a question that probably keeps him up at night: Can he still control his distances and adrenaline if he gets in contention?

We are used to hearing Tiger win and say he didn’t have his “A game.” We’re used to hearing him come back from one of his sabbaticals and say he expects to win. Not this time. Expectations have been tempered.

“I’m just starting back. I’ve been away from the game for a very long time,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of room for improvement and a long way to go.”

On his flight to Los Angeles on Monday, Woods told Justin Thomas that he had made subtle changes in his posture and swing based on a better understanding of his body.

“Those are things that I could never have figured out on my own, not in a tournament setting, because in a tournament setting things are ramped up, and I could feel some of the things were off and was able to work on them,” Woods explained. “The more tournaments I play in, the more I’ll be able to get a better understanding of that. But also I don’t want to play too much. This is still all new to me and I just want to be real smart about it.”

Being Woods means having his every move, his every shot analyzed. Over-analyzed, really. Jim Furyk, in contrast, is the U.S. Ryder Cup captain, a major champion and 17-time Tour champion who made his first start in six months this week after being sidelined with a shoulder injury. Hardly anyone noticed. McIlroy, who played alongside Woods the first two days, paid close attention to Woods, the golfer he grew up idolizing, and said he saw enough good shots to believe Woods is “close,” and counseled for patience. Two rounds at Riviera taught Woods that he is farther away from being ready for Augusta than he thought, but it also fueled his desire to get back in the action.  

“That’s the fantastic thing about this game,” Faldo said. “It hangs a carrot out in front of you.”

And now preparation for the chase for major No. 15 leads Woods home, back to Florida.