Tiger Woods missed his first European Tour cut on Friday at the season-opening Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, but it should not be any cause for alarm or premature panicking for the 14-time major champion.
Despite firing underwhelming scores of 72 and 75 to finish at three-over, there are plenty of positives for Woods to draw on.
Since it is the very first tournament of the 2013 campaign, this relatively shocking result should be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. What ultimately caused his unprecedented demise overseas, though, came as the result of an obscure penalty.
On the par-4 fifth hole, Woods' tee shot found some particularly thick cabbage well right of the fairway. After taking a "free" drop from an embedded lie—which was agreed upon by playing competitor Martin Kaymer—Tiger hacked out and went on to make his fourth bogey in the first five holes.
However, the strange narrative was just beginning to develop at that point.
Not until the 11th hole did an official inform Woods that he had to incur a two-stroke penalty, since the area he was in at No. 5 was actually a sand area, rather than purely grass. The apparent free drop wound up being what cost Woods the most, as he fell one shot short of the cut line.
ESPN's Bob Harig brings up an interesting point:
In the end, Tiger could have asked for a ruling and didn't. It's ultimately on him. es.pn/U6TPYZ— Bob Harig (@BobHarig) January 18, 2013
Rather than simply consulting with Kaymer, Woods could have inquired about his situation with a rules official prior to making his decision
Rust should be expected at this infantry stage in the year, especially for a player like Tiger who gears his game toward the majors.
Although this was undoubtedly a high-profile event in which Woods was paired with World No. 1 Rory McIlroy—who also missed the cut, finishing at 6-over—the course and conditions weren't very forgiving.
Windy conditions, particularly in the opening round and tight fairways, caused Woods to misfire with his driver more than 50 percent of the time, and he hit just 19 out of 36 greens for the shortened week.
The Abu Dhabi course has very thick rough, and it is difficult to go after pins and make birdies when golfers don't find the fairway.
The biggest positive is that Woods still managed to card nine birdies despite subpar ball striking, which shows that his putter is on at the moment.
Woods posted a birdie or better conversion percentage of better than 47 percent for the week. For context, McIlroy led the PGA Tour in that category in 2012 with a 34.68 percent clip.
After a $3 million appearance fee and two days of relatively uninspiring golf, it's back to the drawing board for Woods, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. All golf fans have witnessed just how quickly he can turn it up and dominate—sometimes out of nowhere.
When Woods gets out of rhythm, he tends to dip his head a little bit too far at impact. Being blessed with wonderful hands and fast hips gets him out of sync. With his health seemingly restored, he will continue to try pulling off outstanding shots rather than hit it 85 percent, just like he always has.
In all previous instances in his illustrious career, he's always found a way to make it work.
Despite this early setback, expect Tiger to roar back and find the winner's circle sooner rather than later, especially if he continues to putt well.