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Tiger Woods Flashes Top Form but Has a Ways to Go

There’s a clear issue with Tiger Woods’ game. It’s not about the quality of the golf shots. Through two rounds at the Hero World Challenge, Woods has flashed enough to know that the otherworldly talent he’s showcased for 25 years is still inside him.

It’s the quantity.

Thursday’s round of 75 provided the clues for that assertion. Friday’s round confirmed it. For the second day in a row, a solid (or even better) round turned sour down the stretch as Woods ran out of gas. To contend in a PGA TOUR event, there can’t be any give late in a round – mentally or physically. Woods knows that better than anyone. Right now, there’s a bit of both.

To use his own words, he’s “stalled.”

“I just haven’t done it. I haven’t played in six months. Things are not as sharp as they normally would be,” said Woods, who made four birdies in his first seven holes but faded with three bogeys on the back nine to shoot 2-under 70.

“Certainly there’s some good in there and just got to make sure that the good is more consistent than it has been.”

As far as complaints go, it might be the best-case scenario. Woods’ two rounds at Albany Golf Club this week are the only two competitive rounds he’s played since he withdrew from the Masters and underwent ankle fusion surgery in April. He’s practiced some, but not much, prioritizing recovery over reps in the lead-up. That’s how it looks.

Woods’ limp, noticeable in any public appearance over the last several months, is essentially non-existent. He’s walking without pain, which was far from a certainty after his car accident in 2021. He’s sore, sure. The back injuries of years past leave their scars. But it’s not inhibiting his swing. His ball speed is above TOUR average. And, at least on Friday, he ranked in the top five in driving.

But in the areas of the game where practice really shines, he has shown warts. Woods said in the leadup to this week that he’s played a lot of individual holes but not rounds. That begins to explain why he has been plenty capable of starting fast but can’t conjure that patented Woodsian trait of steering a round home when the swing gets loose. He just hasn’t done it.

It bit him on Thursday when he played the final four holes in 4-over. He made a mess of the easiest hole of the round, the par-5 15th hole. Woods attempted to hit out of a bush following an errant drive, but his ball moved a foot and forced him to hit backward. He wound up making a double bogey.

It crept up on Friday, too. He shot a front-nine 32, those four early birdies accompanying five relatively stress-free pars. But what looked easy at the beginning of the round was laborious at the finish. After putting well all day, Woods three-putted from 16 feet on No. 13. He missed a short birdie putt on the 14th, then bungled the par-5 15th again. In a greenside bunker after two shots, Woods hit an uncharacteristically poor bunker shot to 30 feet. Then he did something he can’t ever remember doing. He putted it off the green, back into the same bunker he just played out of.

“That was not a good putt. It was downwind and I hit it way too hard. It got going on the wind and got going on the grain and was gone,” said Woods, who made bogey and joked, “it was better than yesterday.”

He made a bogey on the 16th, the hardest hole of the week, too. However, the par-3 17th hole showed a glimmer of improvement. In the first round, he landed his tee shot about a club short of his intended target and three-putted for a bogey. On Friday, he hit it pin-high and holed the 27-footer for birdie.

Improvement is all Woods is looking for.

“This week is a great beta test to figure out what I can do, what the plan is going forward, what we’re going to do in the gym, what I need to do, and just overall just analyze what it’s like to compete and play,” he said.

There remain glimmers of the old Woods, who won 82 times on TOUR and racked up majors at a historic rate. There’s still a propulsion to his game when he’s rolling. Properly executed shots stacking upon each other, each one making the following one just a bit better, leading the viewing public to believe he will never make a bogey again. Woods has walked with that patented swagger in spurts, stalking putts and strutting down fairways.

That’s the long-term takeaway. He’s healthy (at least as much as Woods can be these days). And when Woods is healthy, great golf remains inside of him. Now, it’s on him to produce it with the regularity required to contend again.

Source : PGA Tour