Woods' game showed more promise than pitfalls


GREENSBORO, N.C. – There were no last-minute heroics, no distinct Tiger roars – except for on the third hole on Sunday, but that was for playing partner Scott Brown’s hole-in-one. There were no turn-back-the-clock performances and, finally, no more chances.

The end of the 2014-15 PGA Tour road awaited Tiger Woods late Sunday at the Wyndham Championship, a journey that at times has felt like a test track with as many twists and turns as he’s had to navigate this season.

He did not go quietly.

The game’s most high-profile enigma turned back the clock with an opening 64, teased us on Friday with a 65, and even showed flashes on promise on Day 3 with a 68, considering how many birdie opportunities refused to drop.

After more than two winless years, Woods’ decision to play the Wyndham Championship appeared inspired, a spirited final swing to prolong a season that in all honesty would probably be best left in the rear view.

He needed something magical, something straight out of the memory banks, to survive the FedEx Cup playoff cut. Instead, he got more of the same on Sunday.

Woods played his first six holes with all pars on a Sedgefield Country Club layout that is more mad dash than major test in terms of scoring. He then turned where he’d started the day, at 13 under and three shots out of the lead.

A birdie at the par-4 ninth offered a glimmer of hope, but he ping-ponged across the 11th green on his way to a triple bogey-7 and an early off-season.

He needed to win – or to finish alone in second place with a monsoon of help from those around him – to secure himself a spot in next week’s playoff opener in New Jersey. He tied for 10th.

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Instant analysis demands a hard appraisal of Woods’ season – 11 starts, five missed cuts and just one top-10 finish – but there is no ignoring how far he has come since February, when he played just 11 holes at the Farmers Insurance Open before "deactivated glutes” and a defective short game drove him into a self-imposed hiatus.

The troubling trifecta of back surgery, a major swing overhaul and a suddenly absent short game prompted him to miss two months while he searched for answers in the south Florida dirt.

When he did return, things weren’t much better with Woods missing the cut at the year’s final three majors.

But the Wyndham Championship provided hope even before he ignited the North Carolina faithful with a chip-in birdie at his opening hole on Thursday.

Woods’ decision to play an event outside his wheelhouse was a sign that, deep down in the recesses of an admittedly complicated mind, he believes he is as close to regaining his form, as he has regularly suggested.

“I just couldn't get anything out of my rounds and a couple lucky bounces here, take advantage of those opportunities. It's just the flow,” he said on Friday. “It's so close to going either way and this week I've done a pretty good job of handling it and positioning my golf ball around the golf course.”

Baby steps aren't what the golf world wants from the former world No. 1 – as an aside, his tie for 10th place at the Wyndham did move Woods into the top 250 in the World Golf Ranking – but even the most jaded observer must acknowledge that his week in the Piedmont Triad was progress.

Not that the week transpired without a few bruises. The short-game woes from earlier this season surfaced again at the 11th hole in his final round, and he appeared to be moving gingerly the last two days.

“It’s not my back, no,” he said when asked his health status. “Just my hip.”

For a player who has been sidelined for all number of reasons in his career, any health issue is troubling. It's also worth considering that the Wyndham marked only the second time this year he’d played back-to-back weeks.

But that likely isn’t an immediate concern for Woods, with his schedule now clear until the Frys.com Open to start the 2015-16 in October, followed the next week by the Bridgestone America’s Cup in Mexico.

On Sunday, Woods’ focus was on a week that showed more promise than pitfalls.

“I gave myself a chance and I had all the opportunity in the world today to do it. I didn't get it done,” Woods said. “I had some makeable putts early I missed. I just wasn't able to get any kind of roll early.”

Maybe expecting a ninth-inning walk-off from a player who has resided below the Mendoza Line for two years was too big of an ask.

It’s similar to how every fan clings to the notion that next season is when things turn around for the home team. Woods’ long-term competitive fortunes after a solid, though not spectacular, week suddenly don’t seem so bleak.