The practice


So Tiger Woods broke Greg Norman’s course record at Medalist GC last weekend, leading some hearty optimists to believe his post-hydrant struggles as a golfer are about to become a thing of the past.We’re talking about a man who held all four 72-hole, major-championship scoring records concurrently for more than a decade, a guy with 14 major titles.

Practice-round scores don’t make my radar screen, hombre.

The fact that Woods was playing – much less writing numbers in those little boxes – is really what matters here. This week marks the first time in ages, perhaps ever, that the Dude in the Red Shirt has deviated from his very predictable schedule to play in a tournament. Not only that, he has something to prove. More than the leap of faith taken by U.S. Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples, whose selection of Woods as a wild-card pick has evoked opinions of ample strength on both sides, Tiger is running out of comebacks.

Almost two years at the crossroads. That’s a long time to be standing there, doing nothing.

He proclaimed himself fully healthy in August, then stunk it up at a pair of premium-field events, lending credence to the theory that it wasn’t all the knee, but the golf swing, and whatever lingering personal issues Woods might still be enduring. Tiger’s struggles are almost certainly due to a combination of factors: physical, mental, mechanical. You can’t be that good for that long, then fall off so dramatically, for just one simple reason.

That said, he’s still Tiger Woods, and at the Open, he’ll do his best to remind us of that. Oddsmakers have installed Red Shirt as a 6-to-1 favorite – ridiculously low odds considering pro golf’s what-have-you-done-lately nature. This is not some college tournament or a Nationwide Tour gathering with a field full of minor-leaguers. The bookies are the ones with the financial stake, not me, but 16-1 sounds more reasonable.

I am among those who definitely thought Woods should be on the Presidents Cup squad, which isn’t to say I think he’s anything more than an average Tour pro right now. His greatness, however long in hibernation, still exists – and could return for an extended stretch at any time. That alone makes Tiger more valuable than, say, Rickie Fowler or Keegan Bradley. As I said on last week’s “Grey Goose 19th Hole,” every pro golfer has a ceiling: the absolute highest level at which they can perform.

Every golfer, that is, but Woods. He has done stuff nobody else has ever done – stuff a lot of knowledgeable people thought never would happen in our game. Do I think he’ll dominate again someday? No. Do I think he can? Perhaps. To me, a lot depends on how long he continues working with swing coach Sean Foley, whom some experts see as a bright young guy with a swing method wholly incompatible with Woods’ mechanical DNA.

One could even see how this week is as big for Foley as it is for Tiger. At some point, the results are all that matter, and Woods hasn’t been getting them with this swing. He hasn’t played well in back-to-back rounds in ages. He hasn’t contended on Sunday since the Masters, and even that was after going out early, making a ton of noise on the front nine, then cooling off when he had to stay blazing hot.

The good news? He’s playing. The really good news? He’s working at it. Reality? Ain’t no guarantees, folks. They call it “golf” because all the other four-letter words were taken, and nobody knows four-letter words better than Tiger Woods.