Woods' game still needs work with Masters looming


Tiger Woods announced Friday that he won’t return to competition next week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the most surprising – and significant – development during an indefinite break that is now 36 days and counting.

In a brief statement released on his website, Woods said that he’s “making strides” but reiterated that he won’t return until he can compete at the highest level.

Translation: His game may be in better shape than when he was chopping his way around Phoenix or being carted off the course in San Diego, but he is not yet ready to welcome the public scrutiny of a tournament round. Even after five weeks of work.

These issues run deep.

When Woods said last month that he wouldn’t return to the PGA Tour until his game was “tournament-ready,” Bay Hill was his most likely landing spot, for a few reasons. For starters, Woods has won a record eight times at Arnie’s Place. He had more than a month to work on his game. And he would have the benefit of at least two competitive rounds under his belt before the Masters, which begins in 27 days.

Apparently, it still wasn’t enough time to sort out what appears to be a combination of physical and psychological problems.

He remains hopeful to play in the Masters, but this news only puts his participation in further jeopardy. If he doesn’t feel ready to compete at Bay Hill, where he has so much institutional knowledge, Woods’ beleaguered short game would seem to stand little chance on and around Augusta’s notoriously treacherous greens.

Those clinging to hope that Woods can contend at Augusta without significant reps undoubtedly point to his performance in 2010, when he tied for fourth in his first start since admitting to serial infidelity. Back then his personal life was in disarray, but his world-class game remained intact, only months removed from a six-win PGA Tour season. Best we can tell, the opposite is true here.

Of course, guessing where the former world No. 1 will return is fool’s work.

He’s unlikely to play the Valero for the first time since 1996, if only because TPC San Antonio ranks annually as one of the most difficult venues on the PGA Tour.

That leaves Houston.

Woods has never played the week before the Masters, but since we’re already in uncharted territory with his career, no option should be off the table. In the past few years, tournament officials have done an admirable job of preparing the course for what players will face at Augusta, with the grass mowed from green to tee, the shaved mounds around the putting surfaces and the speedy greens.

Making the Houston stop even more intriguing is the fact that on April 1 there’s a media preview for Bluejack National, Woods’ first U.S.-based golf-course design that is about an hour from the Golf Club of Houston. The invitation does not indicate that Woods will make an appearance there, but the timing – on Wednesday of Shell Houston Open week – is interesting nonetheless.

Steve Timms, the longtime SHO tournament director and president/CEO of the Houston Golf Association, said in an email Friday that he has not had any communication with Woods’ camp regarding a potential appearance at his event.

And so continues the never-ending soap opera, the will-he-or-won’t-he? waiting game that unfortunately has hijacked the sport. Check back next Friday for another update.