The 2014 season certainly hasn't been kind to world No. 1 Tiger Woods thus far, but he enters the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., with an opportunity to turn things around at the perfect time.
Woods missed the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open with a disastrous six-over-par tournament, so he doesn't have much momentum ahead of the Honda Classic, but he was feeling confident regardless.
According to Evan Hilbert of CBSSports.com, Woods told reporters prior to the start of the tournament that he was encouraged by his performance in Wednesday's practice round and that he felt comfortable in familiar surroundings:
It feels good. I was pleasantly surprised how well I was hitting it today. ... I'm going home to my own remote, my own bed, and those are things that we don't get a chance to do very often. Most sports you spend half the year on the road and half the year at home. Most golfers spend pretty much their entire career on the road.
Tournaments always have a much bigger feel when Woods is involved, and that is exacerbated at the Honda Classic due to the fact that he, Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson are all playing in the same tournament for the first time in 2014, per ESPN Stats & Info.
It is an important tournament for everyone with the Masters on the horizon, but it is especially big from Tiger's perspective due to his lack of work thus far.
He came into the Honda Classic having played just 11 competitive rounds on the season, and with his form clearly suffering, Woods needs to create some positive vibes.
All eyes will be on Tiger's performance throughout the tournament, so check back here over the next four days to keep tabs on how he is progressing.
It won't even matter where the leaders finish in relation to Tiger Woods on Sunday at the Honda Classic, because the world's top-ranked player withdrew after playing his first 13 holes in five over par during the final round.
According to PGA Tour Media, it was just the sixth time in 297 professional starts that Woods had withdrawn from a tournament. The reason cited for his premature exit was a back injury, per NBC Sports.
That's not a good sign, because Woods has had nagging back problems, which surfaced in most disturbing fashion when he went to the ground in pain at last year's FedEx Cup playoff-opening event, The Barclays.
Woods has gotten off to a slow start in 2014 and isn't getting any younger. The Masters marks the first major of the year in April, and that's coming rather soon. It remains to be seen how this impacts Woods' schedule moving forward, but it's not looking good for the 38-year-old as he seeks major No. 15.
2014 Honda Classic Final Leaderboard
|5||Billy Hurley III||-7||69|
After grinding through the first two rounds of the Honda Classic and struggling to make the 36-hole cut, there was nowhere to go but up for Tiger Woods.
Perhaps that put the world's No. 1 player at ease, as he came through with what was arguably his best performance of the season in the third round by shooting a five-under 65 to go to five under par for the tournament.
Woods put himself in position to potentially make a run at the leaders on Sunday with another great round, and here is an updated look at who he'll be chasing, courtesy of PGATour.com (leaderboard to be updated at conclusion of third round):
|1||Rory McIlroy||-11||1:35 p.m.|
|2||Brendon de Jonge||-10||1:35 p.m.|
|3||Russell Henley||-8||1:25 p.m.|
|T4||Lee Westwood||-7||1:25 p.m.|
|T4||Russell Knox||-7||1:15 p.m.|
|T6||Brian Stuard||-6||thru 15|
|T6||Jamie Donaldson||-6||1:15 p.m.|
|T6||Ryan Palmer||-6||1:05 p.m.|
|T6||William McGirt||-6||1:05 p.m.|
Tiger was part of the day's first pairing, which made for a strange and unfamiliar vibe, according to Jason Sobel of GolfChannel.com.
Woods is very much used to being in the thick of things, but flying under the radar to some extent appeared to help him get back on track.
Although Woods managed to shoot a one-under 69 on Friday, his play was extremely uneven. Tiger scratched and clawed to ensure that he would hang around for the weekend, which he was ultimately pleased with, per Bob Harig of ESPN.com.
I would like to obviously hit it better than I have been and especially today. I didn't hit it very good today. But, as I said, I fought out a number, which is always a good thing. Somehow would like to put together a good weekend. We're all bunched in there, anything can happen this weekend.
Unfortunately, the front nine of Woods' third round looked like more of the same. He birdied the par-four first in impressive fashion but followed that up with two bogeys, two birdies and two pars between the fourth and ninth holes.
That left Tiger at one under par for the day, according to PGA Tour on Twitter, but the odds didn't look great in terms of getting back in the thick of things.
In typical fashion, though, Woods managed to turn it on once he hit the back nine. Tiger had struggled with the par fours in the first two rounds, as he gained most of his shots on par fives. However, he birdied 10 and 11 to improve to three under par on the day and for the tournament.
After a pair of pars, Woods then went on another birdie run on the par-four 14th and par-three 15th. He closed out the round with three strong pars and gave himself a chance to make some noise in the final round.
Although it is highly unlikely Woods will win the tournament unless the leaders come back to the field a little bit, this round had to give him some confidence after playing poorly in previous tournaments.
Tiger is gearing up for the Masters, and he is going to be a threat if he can put together more rounds like this one. The true test for him, though, is repeating the feat Sunday.
Tiger Woods looked more comfortable on Friday at Palm Beach Gardens, responding positively to his two bogeys. However, the inconsistency continued as Woods shot a one-under 69 for the day, moving him to even for the tournament.
Through two rounds, Woods is tied for 66th, 11 shots back of the lead.
Here's a look at the leaderboard heading into the weekend's final rounds.
|2||Brendon de Jonge||-10||64|
Full leaderboard can be viewed at PGATour.com
Woods' second round began with tons of promise as he birdied the par-five No. 3. However, a bogey on the very next hole squashed his momentum.
After birdieing No. 9 to close out the front nine, Woods once again missed an opportunity to get rolling and gain some much-needed confidence, bogeying No. 11 to fall back to even for the round. One last birdie on No. 13 salvaged the round but leaves the world No. 1 with a massive mountain to climb this weekend, as he'll head into Saturday's third round nearly a dozen shots off the pace.
Afterward, Tiger was critical of himself but expressed optimism as well, per GolfChannel.com's Tiger Tracker account on Twitter.
"It was a grind, no doubt about that," Woods said. "I'd like to obviously hit it better than I have been. I didn't hit it very good today. ... The putts I hit had the right speed. I had a good feel."
Despite some more inconsistent play in Round 2, Tiger will at least have a shot at a comeback this weekend. The projected second-round cut is right at even, which allows Woods 36 more holes to chase down the leaders.
Still, despite Tiger's survival, his early-round play has been underwhelming to say the least. Therefore, unless he makes the proper adjustments and can figure out the ins and outs of the course, he's unlikely to make up any significant ground on Rory McIlroy and the other contenders on Saturday and Sunday.
As has often been the case for Tiger Woods in recent years, his showing during Thursday's first round at the Honda Classic was a mixed bag.
There were certainly flashes of the old Tiger brilliance sprinkled throughout, but there were far too many lapses, and inconsistent play ultimately left Woods well off the pace through 18 holes.
Woods finished the day with a one-over 71, which left him rather far from striking distance. The good news is this is an extremely difficult course, where par is often a good score. That should help Woods recover at least part of his eight-stroke deficit on Friday if he's in top form.
Here is a look at the leaderboard after Thursday's action, as fellow Nike superstar and 2012 tournament champion Rory McIlroy has gone to the top after a seven-under round of 63. McIlroy birdied the par-five 18th hole to secure a one-shot lead over Russell Henley.
|T6||Brendon de Jonge||-4||66|
Full leaderboard can be viewed at PGATour.com
There are still three rounds left to make things right, but it wasn't an ideal start for Woods, who views this tournament as preparation for the Masters, as he told The Associated Press, via Golf.com:
"I think once we get to Florida, I think we're all thinking about our way to Augusta," Woods said.
Woods was even-keeled to say the least at the start of the round, and he kept himself in it by grinding out pars. Tiger began on the back nine, which featured five consecutive par-four holes.
Tiger parred all of them and followed that up with three more before finally making some progress on the scorecard.
As Stephanie Wei of SI.com pointed out, Woods closed out his opening nine holes with a birdie and found himself in the top 10.
Woods continued to play well with a par on No. 1. As Craig Dolch of The Palm Beach Post highlighted, though, his play off the tee was growing problematic.
Tiger's biggest issue that has kept him from ending his major drought in recent years has been his inability to string together consistent play off the tee. That plagued him once again on Thursday, and it led to a rocky finish in the final eight holes.
Woods double-bogeyed No. 2 before getting a stroke back on the par-five third.
Woods would proceed to bogey both the fifth and eighth holes, which left him in a precarious position at two over par with one hole left to play.
After struggling with the par-four holes during the second half of his day, Woods finally came through on the 18th. He was able to drain a much-needed birdie putt to close the day with a one-over 71, which left him six shots off the pace, according to Yahoo Devil Ball Golf.
Woods obviously isn't out of the running by any means, but it was a disappointing finish considering how well he played for much of the opening nine holes. He didn't make many mistakes, and while he only recorded one birdie, he seemed poised to explode on the front nine.
That wasn't ultimately the case, but there are some definite positives that Tiger can take from the first round in an effort to improve moving forward.