So, by comparison, it’s only felt like an eternity since Woods’ last victory lap.
If ties for 30th in nondescript Fall Series events don’t exactly seem red shirt-worthy, consider Woods’ week at CordeValle. He got to watch his beloved Stanford roll over Colorado on Saturday, finished the Frys.com Open with three consecutive sub-70 rounds (68-68-68) – the first time he’s done that this year – and showed flashes of greatness that made him such a no-brainer pick for U.S. Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples, and new caddie Joe LaCava.
For the week Woods made 19 birdies, seventh in the field, and improved in almost every statistical category as the tournament progressed.
Although somewhat skewed by CordeValle’s version of comfort golf, Woods hit 70 percent of his greens in regulation despite a wayward week off the tee (he tied for 68th in fairways hit), and, with a little lead-tape surgery on his putter after Thursday’s round, managed to stave off calls for his conversion to a long putter.
Yet throughout the “comeback,” consistency has eluded Woods and Sunday’s final turn was a microcosm of that untidy truth.
“I got better every day, and unfortunately, a couple times where I kind of didn't get the momentum going when I had a couple of chances to make putts or I hit a bad shot,” said Woods, who teed off on the 10th hole. “Today, I was rolling there. I was 4 under (through six holes). And at 16 all you do is dump the ball to the left and I stuck (the club) in the ground and hit it to the right.”
He attributed his miscue at the 16th to rust or, in Tiger-speak, a lack of “reps,” which brings most observers back to Woods’ patchwork schedule for the remainder of 2011.
Woods is hosting his own Tiger Woods Invitational Tuesday-Thursday at Pebble Beach, which kept him out of the field at the Tour’s Sea Island, Ga., stop; said on Sunday he has “family obligations” the week of the season finale at Disney and is not qualified for the WGC-HSBC Champions in early November.
Much like Woods’ periodic miscues on the course, his sporadic schedule, which worked so well for more than a decade, seems to be stalling whatever momentum he can build on the golf course.
At best, he has four “game time” rounds at the Australian Open before he marches out for his first match at the Presidents Cup. Captain Couples can only hope that’s enough, and that he’s walking shoulder-to-shoulder with his ailing partner Steve Stricker.
Perhaps the most telling sign that Woods is trending in the correct direction came after Saturday’s 68 when he was asked his comfort level with that new-car-smell swing, “I'm able to fix it,” he said simply.
Fixing things on the fly was a hallmark of Woods pre-November 2009, but the new guy, slowed by injury and inactivity, has struggled mightily when things have gone sideways mid-round.
Maybe it’s not the ‘W (win)’ he had atop his “to do” list this week, but the player who finished two rounds at the PGA Championship at 10 over should be savoring victories of any kind right now, either real or symbolic.
“I felt very comfortable, and I just need to keep staying the course,” Woods said on Sunday. “The game's coming, and the shots, you know, I drove it great today, so that was one.”
If Woods needed more motivation to stay the course he only needed to glance over his shoulder on his way out of town late Sunday to Baird’s overtime thriller against Bryce Molder. After 347 tries the circuit’s prince of persistence was clipped on the sixth extra hole by Molder.
If Baird, who now has a dozen winless calendars on Tour, can keep plugging along, Woods and the rest of us can certainly have a little more faith in the current process.