GREENSBORO, N.C. – Tiger’s done. Tiger’s back.
Let the faceless social media give-and-take commence, not that any of the background noise will slip through Woods’ long-established firewall.
Whatever happens on Sunday at the Wyndham Championship, Woods has made it abundantly clear it’s all part of a larger plan, the often-referenced “process” from competitive struggles to something more than simply a curiosity.
Crowds that swelled to more than 32,000 on Saturday at Sedgefield Country Club suggest otherwise, but any hint that a victory would somehow be worth more than the sum of its parts was quickly dismissed by Woods.
“I’m not looking at it like that,” said Woods, whose third-round 68 left him two shots behind Jason Gore. “I'm two back right now. I can go out there tomorrow and make a run and get myself up there and make some birdies. Anybody can make a run and shoot the score that Jason and Jonas [Blixt] did.”
It turns out Davis Love III was right, that Sedgefield was the tonic for what ails Woods’ game. For the week he ranks 16th in driving accuracy, he’s averaged 302 yards off the tee and is 10th in the field in proximity to the hole.
But the key this week has been about what has transpired on Sedgefield’s speedy putting surfaces. Woods’ play at the Wyndham is reminiscent of the Old Tiger, the guy who didn’t make every putt, just the ones that matter.
Specifically it’s been the par putts, the must-make moments to maintain momentum that have separated a chance to win Tour title No. 80 and another tie for 18th place, like his finish at the Quicken Loans National where he also felt like his driving and iron game were on point.
“I felt good. Very steady from the word go,” said Woods, who has converted 44 of 49 putts from inside 10 feet. “I felt like I could be aggressive today. I took a few runs at putts and ripped them past the hole. I just never felt like I was going to miss any of them.”
Clutch moments like at the 10th hole when he missed the green right, drew a bad lie and converted a 24-footer for par. And at the 11th when he calmly rolled in a 4-foot par save and from 5 feet at the 14th hole and 4 1/2 feet at No. 17.
In fact, the only par putt he didn’t convert was at the 18th hole when he ran his birdie attempt 5 1/2 feet by the hole and lipped out his par save.
Otherwise it’s been a clinic for a guy who has felt as if he was just one key moment away from a breakthrough. Your 54-hole front-runner Gore could relate.
After years of pedestrian play the affable veteran scorched Sedgefield with a 62 to move to 15 under and alone atop the leaderboard. Like Woods, it’s a spot he hasn’t felt was that far away despite a season that’s included just a single top-10 finish.
“I felt like I've been one momentum swing away. Like getting up and down on a par 5, something like that,” Gore said. “That's what's been so frustrating. You have to put your head forward and plow forward and keep moving. That's probably what he's going through.”
While a Wyndham win would go a long way to bolstering Woods’ battered psyche, if not quiet the expanding crowd of armchair swing coaches, it’s what an 11th-hour walk-off would do for his competitive fortunes that may be more interesting.
A victory is projected to move him into the top 75 on the FedEx Cup points list and effectively assure him a spot at not only next week’s Barclays but also the second playoff stop at TPC Boston, where he won in 2006.
It would also move him into the top 75 on the U.S. Presidents Cup points list with just two weeks remaining before captain Jay Haas makes his wild-card selections.
Although normally No. 70-something wouldn’t be elevated to “captain’s pick” consideration, even with a victory, but this is Tiger Woods. Haas’ assistant captain Davis Love III has become something of a confidant to the former world No. 1 in recent weeks.
As farfetched as it may seem considering the last two years for Woods, those of Haas’ generation have a preconditioned image of Tiger that is not easily clouded by a recent string of missed cuts and mediocre play.
Put another way, a victory on Sunday would add up to much more than simply Woods’ 80th Tour title. It would be a reason to be optimistic, maybe even provide a measure of validation, but then Tiger historically doesn’t think in those terms.
“I'm having a good time,” said Woods, his shirt soaked with sweat and admittedly “stiff” after playing back-to-back weeks for the first time since February. “It helps to play better and the atmosphere is incredible.”
Woods showed up at the Wyndham Championship to give this season one final chance, and a “W” on Sunday would certainly stand as an unqualified success, but his play this week will be measured in much more subtle terms.
He didn’t travel down Tobacco Road to prove he’s back or that he wasn’t done. He’s here to show that this process is nothing more than a road that had to be traveled no matter how long or difficult it may seem.