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Woods shows encouraging signs ... but what now?

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AUGUSTA, Ga. – Forget release patterns and Myelin issues, whatever that means. You can even forget about that tie for 17th place on Sunday at the Masters, although it was more of a reason to be optimistic than some might think.

The only thing that could be truly gleaned from Tiger Woods’ week at Augusta National was subtly etched into his body language after he completed 72 holes for the first time on the PGA Tour since last year’s Open Championship.

“It was mostly positives," Woods said after a closing 73 on Sunday. "Considering that the state of my game, where it was at Torrey and Phoenix, caught between two different release patterns and then to come back and have, you know, it was maybe only a shot or two over 72 holes I reverted back to that old swing pattern, the release pattern as well.” 

OK, maybe we won’t be able to forget about release patterns just yet; but definitely forget Myelin patterns.

Following eight weeks of hidden progress, Woods returned his game to prime time with, depending on who you ask, varying degrees of success.

While there was no fifth green jacket waiting for him on Sunday, he avoided the kind of embarrassing shots that defined his play earlier this year in Phoenix and San Diego and sent him into seclusion.

Woods’ short game was solid, his iron play – at least for Days 2 and 3 – was sharp and his driving ... well, his driving was familiar.

That he needed 13 holes to hit his first fairway on Sunday is hardly headline-worthy; this is, after all, the same guy who finished 69th on Tour in driving accuracy in 2013 when he won five times.

“I was caught between two different release patterns. They're completely polar opposites. So I needed to do a lot of work and engrain the pattern. The Myelin pattern, where it takes 10,000 reps but it's actually 10,000 good reps. You might hit 50,000 to get 10,000,” Woods said.

Still, taken collectively, and relative to his record the past year and a half, Woods’ week was encouraging, if not for his legions of fans then at least for the man himself.

“It's going to take some time,” Woods said. “So I was pleased with the way I was able to hit the ball this week. I've got my pop back. And then on top that I got my short game back, which was nice.”

There were, however, a few asterisks.

When Woods pushed his drive right of the ninth fairway on Sunday and lost a violent exchange with a tree root with his next shot there were a few anxious moments.

He favored his right wrist for the next few holes, but seemed to recover enough to eagle the 13th hole and sounded like someone who had spent too much time on webMD following his round when asked about the injury.

“It hurt. It definitely hurt,” said Woods, who withdrew after 11 holes in his last start at the Farmers Insurance Open with a tight back. “I drove my hand or drove the club straight into it [a root]. It didn't move. But my body kept moving.

“There was a little joint that popped out and I was able to somehow put it back in, which didn't feel very good, but at least it got back in and I could move my hand again.”

While Woods didn’t give any indications the injury would have any long-term impact on his comeback, the confidence gained from his week in Georgia was overshadowed by an uncertain future.

Woods’ finish at the Masters moved him up 10 spots in the Official World Golf Ranking, to 101st, not nearly enough to crack the top 64 and qualify for next month’s WGC-Match Play Championship (next Monday is the deadline to qualify).

That would make his next likely start The Players, which he won the last time he played, in 2013. But even that seems uncertain with Woods telling scribes when asked about the Tour’s marquee event, “I'm going to practice. Practice some more.”

Between now and the FedEx Cup playoffs, which he currently isn’t qualified for, Woods will likely have six more starts if he follows his traditional schedule, including The Players, Memorial, U.S. Open, Open Championship, Quicken Loans National and PGA Championship (he’s not currently qualified for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational).

There’s also the question of dwindling opportunities, at least when it comes to Woods’ quest for a fifth green jacket.

When Woods hit what Jordan Spieth called “arguably the greatest shot that's ever been hit in a major championship” - his chip-in at No. 16 on his way to winning the 2005 Masters - he was eight months shy of his 30th birthday.

On Sunday, Woods putted out for bogey on the 72nd hole eight months away from his 40th.

It’s a milestone that would have seemed farfetched when Woods held off Chris DiMarco back in ’05 that he would go 0-for-his-30s at a place that at one time seemed like his personal invitational.

“Arnold [Palmer] and I both agreed, that you could take his Masters and my Masters, and add them together [10 total], and this kid should win more than that,” Jack Nicklaus said of Woods in 1996.

But Woods has fallen well short of that ominous prediction, although it’s not been from a lack of effort.

He had six top-five finishes at Augusta National in his 30s and has still never missed a cut at the Masters as a professional, yet at 44 years old Phil Mickelson, who tied for second on Sunday, appears more likely to add to his Masters closest than Woods.

There were plenty of positives for Woods last week and the confidence he collected will be invaluable as he continues his comeback.

“My short game’s my strength again, which is good stuff,” Woods said.

There were also plenty of questions, primarily what’s next and when? Oh, and what exactly is a Myelin pattern?