LOS ANGELES — Give Tiger Woods credit for being all-in on his comeback. There might not be enough Bridgestone golf balls in his bag to handle the brutal test that is PGA National in Florida, given the way he just hit them in California, but he will endure regardless.
Instead of the rough that swallowed up no less than 15 of his tee shots at Riviera Country Club during two rounds of the Genesis Open, there are water hazards on seemingly every other hole on the Champions course where Woods will make a second straight start.
He will be taking his shaky driving game to an unrelenting venue that typically is buffeted by windy conditions and potentially confidence-busting narrow fairways.
And there are just a few days to get it all straightened out.
“I need some tournament rounds,” Woods said after a 76 following his opening-round 72 was well outside the cut line at the tournament where he first played as a 16-year-old in 1992.
It is a bold, and perhaps necessary step in his comeback, as clearly practice rounds and reps on the driving range are not transferring to inside the ropes. A common malady for golfers of every shape, size and stature, bringing his game to the course is a far more difficult task.
And so while PGA National might not seem ideal, there is no better place to ratchet up the pressure.
“The game speed is ramped up just a little bit,” Woods said. “Just got to be able to fix that. One of my hallmarks of my whole career is I’ve always hit the ball pin high with my iron shots, and I have not done that. My wedge game is fine, but my normal iron shots that I’ve always dialed in for much of my entire career, it’s just not there.”
The raw numbers offer some clues.
Woods hit just 13 of 28 fairways in his two days at Riviera after hitting only 17 of 56 at Torrey Pines three weeks ago. While there was improvement (30 percent to 46 percent), Woods suffered with the opposite of what plagued him at the Farmers Insurance Open.
There he seemed to lose a majority of his tee shots to the right. Here it was numerous shots to the left, especially Friday, when he would aim down the left side expecting to cut the ball and instead would pull it.
“My cut was not cutting,” he said. “It was just one of those things. I have to go back and work on it. I’ve got the weekend off, some more days to work on it.”
For the week, Woods hit just 16 of 36 greens, and while some of that can be attributed to playing from the rough, there were other issues.
For example, he missed the green on seven of the eight par-3s. On the ninth hole Friday, in perfect position after finding the fairway for just the second time, he dumped a wedge shot into a bunker from 136 yards.
And unlike Torrey Pines, where an amazing short game saved him, it just wasn’t as solid at Riviera, where he saved par from off the green just 10 of 20 times.
“Just the inconsistency of it,” Woods said when asked what bothered him the most. “It’s so different playing tournament golf versus playing at home. I’ve just got to play more tournaments.”
The word came before Woods had even completed the front nine, so he had made the decision before knowing Friday’s outcome. Perhaps he had a feeling it wouldn’t go well, and he said afterward his warm-up on the putting green was poor.
Regardless, if he says he needs more tournament rounds, then it doesn’t make sense to sit one out that is a 20-minute drive from his home.
“He is very close,” said Rory McIlroy, who played with Woods for the first two rounds and also played casually with him over Thanksgiving. “Give him a little bit more time. He’s still figuring a few things out with equipment, sort of in between drivers, but he’s close. I thought his short game display yesterday was very, very impressive. He struggled a little bit more today but he hits enough good shots to know that if he sort of pieces it all together, he’s going to be right there.
“I think everyone just has to be patient with him, especially him being patient with it and just give himself time. It’s a good thing he’s playing next week, just to get back at it.”
Woods is well aware of how difficult the Honda venue is, but then again, not many of them are easy. “The two tournaments I’ve played have been really tough tests,” he said of Torrey Pines and Riviera. “It is what it is. These are two tough venues and it was tough on me.”
Clearly there is some perspective in order. Woods has now played 10 rounds of competitive golf since returning from a fourth back surgery, the spinal fusion that took place last April. He didn’t swing a club for six months afterward.
He played two rounds with two of the game’s young stars, and didn’t look out of place, even though his scores didn’t match theirs. There is lots of work to be done, and considerable time necessary, for it to all come together.
Unlike previous comebacks, Woods’ expectations are tempered, and he seems prepared for dealing with the game’s various setbacks.
“I haven’t played golf in years, so I’m starting to come back and it’s going to take a little time,” he said. “I’m progressing, I’m starting to get a feel for tournament golf again. I just need to clean up my rounds.”
Sounds simple, but nothing about the South Florida track that awaits will be considered as such.