SAN MARTIN, Calif. – When last seen at a golf tournament, Tiger Woods was leaving early from the PGA Championship after missing the cut. He didn’t qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs, giving him a long break that he wasn’t expecting.
If there was an upside that day in Atlanta, Woods figured he would have “nothing to do but work on my game.”
And that’s what he did.
He showed up Wednesday at CordeValle for the Frys.com Open knowing that whatever happens over the next two or four days, it won’t be from a lack of practice.
Woods said he has routinely played 36 holes – sometimes 45 holes – a day at his new home in South Florida, and he noticed his scores getting lower and lower until he set the course record last week at Medalist Country Club with a 62. Robert Allenby recalls seeing Woods at The Bear’s Club one day in the morning and into the late afternoon.
“The major overhauls are done,” Woods said. “I’ve done all that work. Now, it’s just fine tuning.”
There was one occasion during his pro-am round when he asked swing coach Sean Foley to videotape his swing. On another shot, he couldn’t figure out why the flight of his tee shot started out as a cut and then hooked back to the left.
Otherwise, Woods feels as though he’s back to the simple part of golf. Step up and hit it.
“I don’t need to worry about whether I have the club here or here or here or here or here,” he said. “I’ve done all that legwork, and now it’s time to play. And that’s where I needed to get to, which I hadn’t been able to because I wasn’t healthy enough to get there. And that part was frustrating, because I know what I can do in the game, and I just needed the time to practice.
“And that’s why I’m so excited about being here and playing.”
It’s a transition he might not ever have expected, going from a major championship to a Fall Series event, with a seven-week break in between. The Fall Series was designed to give most players a chance to secure their PGA Tour cards for next year, and the field is loaded with such players.
There are only six players from the top 50 on the money list, and 26 from the top 100. Rory Sabbatini at No. 27 is the highest-ranked player from the PGA Tour money list.
And then there is Woods, who is No. 118 after having entered only eight PGA Tour events and going the distance in five of them.
He no longer is among the top 50 in the world ranking for the first time since he was a 20-year-old rookie in 1996, having slipped to No. 51 this week. Yet he is such a powerful draw that ticket sales are five times ahead of last year. The Frys.com Open is close to selling out, unusual for a Fall Series event, and even some tournaments in the regular part of the season.
Woods’ year looked much more promising in April when he tied for fourth at the Masters, after briefly being in a tie for the lead when he made the turn at Augusta National on Sunday. But he aggravated injuries in his left leg, then returned too early at The Players Championship. He withdrew after nine holes and didn’t return again for three months at the Bridgestone Invitational.
Woods thought he was close to putting his new swing together at the Masters.
“And then after that, I was kind of shot for a while,” he said. “And that was frustrating because then I had to go back and kind of piece my way back to where I was at Augusta.”
He said he was limited to how much he could practice early in the season, and he had less than a week to get ready for the Bridgestone Invitational once he was given clearance to play as much as he wanted.
“This is different,” Woods said. “I’ve had a chance to prepare, and then obviously after this event, I’ve got a few more weeks (four) before I play in the Aussie Open. So that’s more how I’d like to prepare and practice and play in events. So I’m getting back to my normal routine.”
The question is whether he can get back to normal results.
His expectations haven’t change – “Getting a W,” he said – although he hasn’t won on the PGA Tour since the 2009 BMW Invitational, and hasn’t won anywhere since the Australian Masters on Nov. 15, 2009.
And even though he has been playing well at home – Woods said he “left a few shots out there” when he had his 62 – it’s different when a scorecard is in his pocket and thousands of fans are lining the fairways.
He will play the opening two rounds with UCLA sophomore Patrick Cantlay, the low amateur at the U.S. Open who shot a 60 at the Travelers Championship a week later and was leading going into the weekend.
Cantlay at least met Woods on Tuesday when they played together in an outing at The Institute, the course where Fry’s Electronics wants to eventually take its tournament.
“He was real cordial and real nice, and we joked around a little bit out there and had a good time,” Cantlay said.
“I didn’t keep my score,” Cantlay said. “I was just an amateur. I picked up when I was out of the hole.”
He won’t be able to do that at CordeValle on Thursday. Neither will Woods.