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Woods coming around despite worst start as pro

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Kyla Inaba and Eileen Kelly  - 

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – On paper there is no other way to slice this – Tiger Woods is off to his worst start to a year as a professional.

With apologies to the PGA Tour’s new wraparound schedule, the run-up to the Masters begins in January, not in October at the Open, and the world No. 1’s record speaks for itself.

After failing to make the 54-hole cut at last week’s Farmers Insurance Open, marking the first time he hasn’t advanced to Sunday at his season opener, Woods tied for 41st at this week’s Dubai Desert Classic.

Dubai Desert Classic: Articles, videos and photos

In nine of 18 seasons as a professional, Woods has won at least one of his first two starts, including victories in both on three occasions, and his cumulative finish to begin 2014 is easily his scrappiest showing to kick off a new season.

But that’s on paper, and as we’ve learned with Woods there’s always more to the equation than the leaderboard indicates.

Following a particularly unsightly 73 on Friday, Woods conceded that his offseason was not as productive as it had been in the past, the byproduct of a series of nagging injuries – including a balky back during the FedEx Cup playoffs – that required his undivided attention.

“I took a long break there and didn't really do anything much,” he said after Round 2. “I was just trying to get my body organized and that part has materialized and that's nice. Now just need to get the game to come around.”

Despite the final tally, a 6-under total which was 10 strokes off the winning pace set by Stephen Gallacher, his game did come around. Weekend rounds of 70-71 were highlighted by better ball-striking and plenty of missed opportunities on the greens.

Consider that through the first two days Woods hit driver 18 times and found just four fairways with little or no wind at the Emirates Golf Club. On the weekend, that number improved to 11 of 22 under slightly tougher conditions.

Woods said he discovered a fix on the practice tee after his round on Friday.

“I drove it great today, I did all day,” Woods said on Sunday. “I just made a quick, easy fix with my grip the other day and from then on drove it great.”

His putting woes – Woods estimated he lipped out seven putts on Day 4 – and shaky short game – which likely had more to do with the over-seeded rye rough – aside, his week in Dubai may end up being a steppingstone to bigger and better things.

It’s not inconceivable to imagine Woods shelving the clubs since his runner-up finish at December’s Northwestern Mutual World Challenge for some much needed R&R. It is a commonly held assessment that Woods is an “old 38” after a lifetime of ballistic swings and multiple knee surgeries.

It’s also within the realm of reason to figure that if the ultimate goal is to win major championships, which it is, it’s better to peak in April and June than it is to come out swinging in January.

Call it golf’s version of a pitch count, trading oversized trophies in the Middle East for major championships. On paper, 2014 may appear to be a false start, but in April we may well remember this stretch as the start of something special.