For Tiger Woods and his fans, there are three words to keep in mind this season: It's a process.
In sports, this saying can be overused to the point of becoming trite. But in this case, as the 14-time major champion recovers from back surgery and tries to find comfort with his new, abbreviated swing, it might as well be gospel.
Woods missed the cut at the Quicken Loans National, had the worst four-round performance at a major in his career at the British Open and is pretty much out of contention after three rounds at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Following his 72 on Saturday, he is one over par for the tournament, 15 shots behind leader Sergio Garcia.
But even given all of that, Woods is still ahead of schedule in his comeback. After all, he's only four months removed from back surgery. Patience is a must.
In a press conference after his second round at Bridgestone on Friday, Woods reminded reporters of this, per ASAP Sports:
Hey, this is supposed to be my second tournament back, not my third. Everything's going pretty good. I've gotten a little bit better, and the good news is I'm still getting stronger.
I've still got a long way to go as far as my strength and explosiveness compared to what I'm used to feeling, but all that's coming around.
But such perspective is hard for a perfectionist like Woods to keep. "I didn't hit the ball well. I didn't putt well. I didn't do anything well," he lamented at the beginning of the same press conference.
When describing his putting woes, he snarked, "It had bad speed, bad line. Other than that, it was all right."
It's hard for those covering his rounds to keep the big picture in focus, too. Perusing articles from his round of 71 on Friday, it was clear that most were looking at the glass half empty. "Tiger Woods regresses," a USA Today headline read. Another on ESPN.com proclaimed, "Tiger Woods' struggles continue."
Those headlines were mild, though, when compared to some of the overt criticism experts are heaping on Woods, particularly about his golf swing, which shortened after surgery and to which he is clearly still adapting.
The new swing particularly affects his drives, which makes sense considering that he only started driving the ball a couple of days before he committed to his first comeback event, the Quicken Loans National.
Still, John Strege of Golf Digest took Woods to task for his poor driving:
Woods’ driving has been pathetic and he has been missing both wide left and wide right. He hit only four of 14 fairways on the South Course at Firestone on Friday and six of 14 on Saturday, as he fell out of contention in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
"When I watch him he almost reminds me of an aging actor in Los Angeles who’s had so much plastic surgery that they’re unrecognizable," [Brandel] Chamblee said on Golf Central Pregame. "As I watch Tiger Woods play golf right now, his golf swing to me is completely unrecognizable. At his worst, when he was trying to shorten his golf swing it wasn’t this short, it wasn’t this quick in transition, it wasn’t this narrow."
Criticizing Woods is fair game—he's one of the greatest golfers of all time, and he's one of the most famous and wealthy athletes on the planet. With such success comes extra layers of scrutiny.
But it doesn't do any good to throw Woods under the bus without telling the full story. And the full story is that given the extent of his surgery and subsequent rehab time, there is no reason to expect that he should be anywhere near full strength right now.
"[M]ost of the people I talked to who have had the procedure have no idea how I'm even back here playing," Woods said after his first round at Bridgestone, per ASAP Sports. "They just can't understand that."
With his trademark determination and attention to detail, Woods controlled everything from his diet to his minute-by-minute rehab plan to make sure he was back on the golf course as quickly as possible.
But unfortunately, nothing he can do off of the golf course can replace the time he needs on the golf course to get back to full strength.
It's entirely possible that Woods will never win another major and that he'll never even closely resemble the golfer he once was. But no matter what his final round at Bridgestone brings, four months after surgery is far too soon for any verdict to be given.
Even for someone like Tiger, there's no magical cure for post-surgery woes. He needs time, and he needs patience. We need to let him have it.