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Jury On Woods’ Game Still Out

SAN MARTIN, CALIFORNIA l He still can play golf. Still can break 70. Tiger Woods may not be what he was two years ago but seemingly neither is Tiger what he was two months ago.
The tournament he needed may not have been exactly the reassurance golf needed but it was progress.
Anybody but Tiger and a golfer returning from a two-month layoff, a golfer still perfecting a swing change, a golfer who is as much a celebrity as an athlete, and what was accomplished at the Open would be judged an achievement.
Hey, three consecutive rounds in the 60s for the only time this year. And even if CordeValle resort, tucked in a valley of the Santa Cruz Mountains some 80 miles south of San Francisco, isn’t exactly Pebble Beach it’s still a course with a lot of bunkers and tricky greens.
So, his final score of 7-under 277 wasn’t in the top 20? He made a cut for the first time since The Masters, and even if some nitwit stepped under the ropes and hurled a hot dog at Woods on the seventh green of the final round, Tiger was hardly displeased with his game.
“It’s getting there,” he said. “It’s a process. I don’t know what the end is.”
Nobody does, but what we do know is this: Tiger, after the scandal, after the coaching change, after the caddie change – the renowned Joe LaCava was on his bag at the Frys for the first time – after the knee and Achilles troubles, is able to make birdies, 19 in all, and not avoid bogeys; he had 10 overall and on day one when he shot a 2-over 73 a double-bogey on a ball lost in a weed-filled hazard.
Want a quick analysis of Tiger Woods, October 2011 version? “The last time I played with him, in 2008, he made pars from everywhere,” said Louis Oosthuizen, last year’s British Open champ, who was grouped with Tiger and hot-shot amateur Patrick Cantlay of UCLA the first two days. “Now he makes bogeys easily.”
That was merely a 36-hole assessment, but not an inaccurate one. Woods got it going the last three rounds then stumbled. And while a 68, 3 under, is better than a poke in the eye, Tiger was thinking of a 66 or 65 – or as Jim Renner and Will MacKenzie each shot Saturday, a 62, the course record.
It was an “If I,” kind of tournament for Woods, one where, as many a golfer, he said, “If I make par there,” or “If I make birdie there.” But he didn’t.
Woods hadn’t been in a competitive situation since he missed the cut at the PGA Championship. He was not eligible for the FedEx playoffs, thus chose one of the Fall Series – the one 50 miles from where he went to school, Stanford – to test himself.
He had been named to the U.S. team for next month’s Presidents Cup by captain Fred Couples, and some questioned that decision, although not 2010 champ Rocco Mediate, who insisted, “I would pick him for any Cup.”
Naturally, someone wondered if Woods were trying to validate Couples’ selection. Naturally, Tiger denied it. But he did admit to exchanging texts with Couples during the Frys.
“I got better every day,” said Woods, who did that. Not good enough to challenge for the victory he always says is his primary goal in playing golf, but good enough to make people believe in possibilities.
“Unfortunately, a couple times I kind of didn’t get the momentum going. I had a couple of chances to make putts, or I hit a bad shot … I haven’t played much. That comes with competitive flow, understanding the situations and feeling. I haven’t really played a lot since the Masters.”
That’s true. Only 10 rounds, including four at the Frys. What’s also true is his best finish was a tie for fourth in The Masters. Woods has been absent so much of the season because of the injuries, and those he contended prevented him from feeling comfortable with the swing he learned from teacher Sean Foley.
The fact Woods has fallen below the top 50 in the world rankings is not really relevant because he played so infrequently. If there is a number that matters, it’s putts per round. And at the finally it was in the top 20 of the field.
Tiger invariably hit some wild shots off the tee, but as Oosthuizen pointed out Woods would get the ball in the hole for a par. Or even a birdie. The contention was for a long while Tiger was bar none the best putter on Tour. That’s no longer the case.
Nobody stays the same. Arnold Palmer used to make everything. Then he made nothing. Tiger, at the Frys, showed, once he got past Thursday, and what he called “the worst putting round of his life,” he made enough.
“Tiger Has His Mojo Back,” was the headline in one Northern California paper. Maybe, maybe not. After one tournament it would be dangerous to rush to any judgment.


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