DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – When it comes to Tiger Woods, patience is in short supply.
Fans want to see the guy who won 14 majors in 11 seasons and reigned as the world No. 1 for a staggering 683 weeks over the course of his career. The media pines for the once-in-a-generation player who transcends sport. And certainly those who pay his appearance fees, which according to various sources easily exceeded seven figures for this week’s stop in Dubai, anxiously await the man who made red and black on Sundays a staple.
The collective wants it all, be it the 2000 or ’05 versions of TW, and they want it now.
It speaks volumes that it sometimes seems the only person with any patience when it comes to Woods’ current comeback is Tiger himself.
Woods has admitted in the past to being antsy, particularly off the course, and he has a history of ignoring doctor’s orders when it comes to his competitive fortunes. But this time has been different.
Following multiple back procedures after the 2015 season, Woods watched all of the official ’16 season from his couch. Even when it appeared he was poised for a comeback he slow played his return, withdrawing from the Safeway Open last fall.
And on Thursday at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when everything that could go wrong did go wrong, Woods remained a singular voice of reason – patience, even.
“I'm fighting my ass off to try and shoot a score,” he said after an opening 5-over 77 left him a dozen strokes off the lead. “I'm trying to get back to even par, and once I get back to even par, try and get 1 or 2 under. Just try and creep my way back.”
After two early bogeys at Nos. 10 and 12 – he started his day on the outward loop – Woods remained upbeat, telling caddie Joe LaCava that even par at the turn was the goal. He figured he could make up ground on his second nine and close the gap on the leaders.
“It just never materialized. I never did it,” he shrugged.
Woods turned in 40 strokes after finding a water hazard, which is easier than you'd think to do in this desert, short of the 18th green. Of the 66 players in the early wave, Woods was beating just two of them, and things didn’t get any better after that.
He failed to birdie the par-5 third after a poor chip shot. In fact, he played Emirates Golf Club’s four par 5s in 2 over par. Woods missed one of his best birdie chances of the day when his 20-footer at the fourth slipped by on the high side, and three-putted the fifth hole for bogey.
There was some solace for Woods in that he hit 10 of 14 fairways on an increasingly windy day, which was a vast improvement over his 4-of-14 performance on Day 1 last week at Torrey Pines. But he struggled with the pace of the greens on his way to 33 putts.
“I just could not hit the putts hard enough. I left every putt short,” Woods said. “What I thought was down grain, downwind, would be quick, downhill, and I still came up short. Into the wind, uphill putts into the grain, I put a little more hinge on it going back to try to get a little more hit to it and it still didn't work.”
It’s not as though Woods was thrilled with his worst round in eight starts in Dubai, as evidenced by his body language on the 18th hole – his ninth – after hitting a 100-yard wedge shot 98 yards and into a water hazard, or when officials told Woods’ group to pick up the pace on the sixth hole.
But all things considered, Woods remained focused on the bigger picture – which includes refining his game in time for the Masters and staying clear of the disabled list if not the trainer’s table.
“I wasn't in pain at all. I was just trying to hit shots and I wasn't doing a very good job,” Woods said. “At the end I finally hit some good ones but the damage had already been done.”
The only damage on Day 1 seemed to be to his confidence following another over-par round to begin a tournament – he opened with a 76 at the Farmers Insurance Open. That he’s scheduled to tee off Friday afternoon with a shamal forecast to bring winds of 30 mph likely won’t help that outlook.
But of all the things that are in short supply for Woods these days, a reliable driver and consistent touch on the greens topping the list, it’s an abundance of patience that might be his greatest asset.
Instagram nation understandably wants the guy who for so long was virtually unbeatable, but on this the only real authority is Woods, who seems content with the notion that this come back will likely take some time.