No Reason for Tiger Woods to Worry Despite Sluggish Start to 2014

Gideon RubinFeatured ColumnistFebruary 28, 2014

Tiger Woods walks off the 18th green after completing the second round of the Honda Classic golf tournament, Friday, Feb. 28, 2014, in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

So now we're supposed to write off Tiger Woods' 2014 season.

One of the most transformational athletes of our generation in any sport is by any objective measure off to by far the worst start of his professional career.

After lackluster performances earlier this month at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines (he finished 80th) and the Omega Dubai Desert Classic (tied for 41st), Tiger overcame a woeful long game to barely make the cut on Day 2 of the Honda Classic on The Champion Course at the PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Tiger shot a one-under 69 on Friday and stands at a pedestrian even-par after 36 holes.

He in all probability won't make a serious run at 36-hole leader Rory McIroy, whom he trails by 11 shots. He's tied for 66th and far more likely to extend his career-worst streak of failing to make the top 20 to three straight tournaments to start the season than take home any kind of hardware.

And who really cares?

Just because marketing types at the PGA and The Golf Channel are heavily invested in hyping these early-season events doesn't make these meaningless tournaments matter.

What really counts are the majors, and it's too soon to read into whether Tiger's performance in what's ostensibly a preseason competition portends of his aspirations to win his first major since 2008.

ESPN columnist Bob Harig earlier this month compared Tiger's early performances of this year to a baseball player getting ready for the season during spring training.

“Like the baseball players who are set to convene at camps in Florida and Arizona in the coming weeks, Woods appears to be working his way into playing condition, figuring out what works and what doesn't, honing the various aspects of a game that is constantly evolving.

"The calendar turned to 2014 and he didn't want to do too much too soon,” Harig wrote. “The problem is, nobody wants to hear it when it comes to Woods.”

Tiger, for his part, offered this assessment of his performance during excerpts of his press conference broadcast on ESPN.

“It was a grind, there's no doubt about that,” he said. "I certainly grinded my way around this place today. I didn't hit it very good, it's just one of those days, but I fought out a number, which was good.”

As is almost always the case with Tiger, his lackluster overall showing featured some flashes of brilliance (even at the debacle in Dubai earlier this month he birdied his last three holes).

On Friday, he buried this 43-foot chip shot from the fringe to birdie the par four 13th hole.

But as has often been the case during Woods' five-year post-scandal majors drought, not all of his shots were highlight material for the right reasons. On Friday, some of his erratic tee shots, notably on the 11th and 12th holes that led to bogeys, are a cause for concern. 

And while making the cut is no moral victory for Tiger, the chance to extend his “spring training” with two more rounds is significant, ESPN analyst Dottie Pepper said on SportsCenter, noting that Tiger has only played 10 rounds so far this year.

“If you're going to be able to prepare for the Masters you've got to be able to play, so this was really important, but it was also important because it showed the versatility of his short game—it's not gone,” she said. "He's got a lot of work to do. You're not going to scrape it around Augusta National and you're not going to scrape it around PGA National, so this is a good way for him to look at the numbers when the week is done and figure out where he was good and where he was bad and where he needs to make dramatic improvements in the five weeks between when he ends Sunday and when he walks down Magnolia Lane.”