Tiger Woods didn't have a triumphant return to the golf course at the 2014 Quicken Loans National event, but it was far from the worst thing that could have happened to the 14-time major winner.
Everyone knew that Tiger came back too early, that he was only playing at Congressional because his foundation was a partner with the event. He even acknowledged it in a rare candid moment with reporters Wednesday, via Farrell Evans of ESPN.com.
"If this wasn't the foundation and our impact that we can have with kids," Woods said, "I probably would not have played. Our goal was the British Open."
Knowing that Royal Liverpool was always Tiger's ultimate goal, it's easier to accept that he missed the cut this weekend with a seven-over-par through the first two rounds. There were positive moments to take away from these 36 holes, most notably three birdies in a five-hole stretch Thursday.
The rust showed early in Round 1, with back-to-back bogeys on his first two holes, and there were four straight bogeys from 11-14 on Friday that all but ended his chances of playing the weekend. But when he was asked about it, all Tiger could talk about was how good he felt, per Golf Central:
"I came back four weeks earlier than I thought we could. I had no setbacks, I got my feel for playing tournament golf." - Tiger Woods— Golf Central (@GolfCentral) June 27, 2014
We have such unrealistic expectations for Tiger at this stage of his career. Some of those are warranted, as we have seen what the best version of this incredible athlete can be. But the important thing to remember is he's still a 38-year-old man who just had back surgery, has a surgically repaired knee and battled various nagging injuries to his lower half for years.
Time has a way of making even the best athletes look mortal. Tiger has taken his lumps and keeps coming back in strong fashion. Last year, for instance, he won five events in a season for the first time since 2009.
Understanding their limitations is what keeps the best athletes in the spotlight longer than others. That's why it wasn't a surprise to hear Tiger invoke the name of another historical sports figure in a pre-tournament press conference, via Farrell Evans of ESPN.com.
:I can't play the way I used to," Woods said. "Just like MJ, I've got a fadeaway now. I've had to rely on different parts of my game and strategy and understand how course management skills are improved; where to miss it, how to miss it."
How will Tiger fare at the British Open?
Michael Jordan had to adapt when he came back after trying to play baseball. He learned the majesty of a fadeaway shot and won three more championships. Tiger is learning to do the same thing.
The Quicken Loans National was a reminder to Tiger, and us, that a return to the winner's circle isn't something that just happens. It was just important for him to play through the event, whether it was 36 or 72 holes, without dealing with the pain that caused him to go under the knife.
By his own account, Tiger did just that. The next stop on his recovery tour will be the British Open in three weeks. Taking positives from the last two days is the surest sign that the path to success is right in front of him, even if it's hard to see at this exact moment.
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