Life without Tiger Woods on the PGA Tour came to an end last week when he made his long-awaited return to competitive golf at Quicken Loans National. It was a short stay, as he failed to make the cut, which changes the focus from getting back on the course to showcasing full strength.
He was unable to break par in either round. Although rust is expected from most players, Woods has always talked about arriving at every event with a focus on winning. He was clearly nowhere near the form necessary to make that happen last week.
The good news coming out of the event was how he felt. Robert Lusetich of Fox Sports passed along the 14-time major champion's comments about his troublesome back, and there were apparently no notable issues during the two rounds:
I hate to say it, but I'm really encouraged by what happened this week.
I missed the cut by four shots. That's a lot. But the fact that what I was able to do physically and the speed I had and distance that I was hitting the golf ball again, I had not done that in a very long time. And to recover like I did overnight, still leery about it, how am I going to recover? Felt great today.
Of course, if there were some minor problems, Woods probably wouldn't mention them publicly to avoid the "returned too soon" backlash. That said, his swing definitely looked more free-flowing despite the lackluster scores.
Now, the question becomes whether he is healthy enough to become a dominant force once again.
Doug Ferguson of The Associated Press (via ABC News) notes all of the wear and tear on Woods' body is starting to add up, which further clouds his future:
Let's be realistic. Woods is 38 going on something much older. He now has more surgeries (five) than green jackets (four). And for all the talk about his swing being slightly shorter or any other technical aspect of his game, what can't be ignored is he no longer makes as many putts as he once did. No one can make them all forever.
Ferguson goes on to talk about how Woods didn't provide a concrete answer when asked about how much practice he got in before his return. It's hard to win tournaments, especially majors, if his practice time is limited in any significant way moving forward.
One thing Woods did admit is that he wasn't in form that would be good enough to contend for a major title. Derek Hunter of the Daily Mail provided remarks from the fan favorite about his outlook with a couple of weeks until the Open Championship.
"The back is in the past," Woods said. "You know, I had no setbacks, no pain but I made a ton of simple little mistakes, misjudging things and missing the hole on the wrong sides and just didn't get up and down on little simple shots. Those are the things I can correct for the British."
It would be a lot easier for golf fans around the globe to share that optimism if he played another tournament before the season's third major and showed progress. That probably won't happen.
John Buccigross of ESPN pointed out that Woods isn't expected to tee it up again until the British Open at Royal Liverpool Golf Club:
Tiger Woods: hit just 20 of 36 GIR at Congressional-- not expected to play in another tournament until the Open Championship on July 17th— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) June 28, 2014
Though he's built up a routine over the years, this would seem like a situation in which sneaking in another event would make a ton of sense. Getting in a couple of extra rounds would help him work out some of the remaining kinks.
ESPN.com's Bob Harig is one of several golf analysts to suggest adding the European Tour's Scottish Open to Woods' schedule:
His 74-75 effort at Congressional showed plenty of room for improvement, and while Woods was encouraged that he had no physical issues, he had to be concerned about the state of his game.
And that is why he should strongly consider adding next week's Scottish Open to his schedule in the few days he has remaining to enter—a spot that would undoubtedly be available for the marquee name in the game.
Woods hasn't shown any interest in doing so. At least not yet.
How will Woods fare at the Open Championship?
So the next time he'll play is probably the British Open. Based on his performance at Quicken Loans National and the remaining question marks about whether he's back to 100 percent physically, it's hard to feel bullish about his chances.
Alas, it's impossible to count him out completely, due to his track record. If the errors Woods was making during his return were as easily correctable as he made them sound, a couple of weeks of practice could be enough to get him back on track.
There are still more questions than answers about where he stands, though.