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Tiger's slow start no reason - for anyone - to worry

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Because he is equal parts the most polarizing and most popular golfer of this or maybe any other generation, Tiger Woods' successes are celebrated too vigorously, his failures criticized too lustily. Hey, that's life in the spotlight.

This latest game of Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't, though, feels more subjective than most theories – even for Woods.

Following his first two starts of this year – missing the Farmers Insurance Open secondary cut and a share of 41st place at the Dubai Desert Classic -- the familiar narrative has been one of worry bordering on panic. Not from him, mind you, but from those eliciting opinions on his early-season results.

The common refrain is that Woods didn't properly prepare for these first two events. That he didn't grind during the offseason to ensure his best stuff was readily available in January and bleeding into February. That he came into the year rusty and even unmotivated.

What this invective fails to recognize is that Woods isn't setting up his year to peak at the beginning. As he's been impatiently telling us for most of his career, his goal is to have his game peak during each of the four major championships.

How quickly we forget, huh? During each of the last two seasons, Woods won multiple titles directly before majors, and then failed to win the more desirables. The criticism then was often that he'd peaked too soon, that he failed to save his best stuff for the biggest events.

Now he's trapped in the proverbial Catch-22: If he wins these early-season events, he's peaked too soon; if he plays poorly, he's unprepared. Clearly, he can't win – even when he wins. Again, chalk it up to life in the spotlight, another sign that the bar he raised for himself is more difficult than ever to clear.

The takeaway from his first two starts shouldn't be worry and panic. Rather it should focus on how he hasn't peaked too early, which is sort of the point.

In the past Woods has blurred these lines by simultaneously contending that he won't tee it up at an event with any goal besides winning the trophy. It's an admirable stance, but perhaps a bit misguided. If you don't believe he'd live with a pair of mediocre finishes at Torrey Pines and Dubai if they're followed by a fifth green jacket come April, then you've clearly lost the plot.

Though he can't say so – certainly not at one course where he's enjoyed so much success and another where he's getting paid big bucks to smile and wave – these events are the equivalent of preseason football for Woods. 

And as any football coach with a Ph.D in Cliché will scream during a halftime speech, "It's not how you start, it's how you finish."

Following that T-41 finish on Sunday, Woods was asked how he can turn things around. How he can rebound and return as the dominating player we've come to expect.

His answer wasn't panic-stricken. In fact, it hardly showed concern at all.

"I'm probably going to work on my lag putting," he confided. "My lag putting needs to be a little bit better than it has been."

Those aren't the words of a player worried about his long-term performance. They're the words of one still clearing out the cobwebs of a sleepy offseason.

And if he's not worried, maybe the rest of us should chill out, too.

That doesn't mean Woods will turn it all around and dominate soon enough. These uninspired performances might linger into the meaty part of the year, producing more middling results.

If that happens, consider him ripe for criticism. Let the narrative then run wild that he's unprepared and unmotivated and un-whatever else fits the profile.

Let him get there, though. To rip a guy for failing to peak before the tournaments where he wants to peak is counterproductive and produces a game for Woods much more unsettling than the one he brought to Torrey and Dubai: Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't. 

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