Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy were talking while walking down the 17th fairway at Riviera when they stopped for a moment as McIlroy began rehearsing elements of a swing. It looked for a brief moment like an impromptu lesson.
Not quite. They were talking about drivers and spin rates and other technical issues.
Woods isn’t looking for another coach.
McIlroy says that all Woods really needs is time, beyond the additional two days he has off after Woods missed the cut in the Genesis Open.
“He’s very close. He is very close,” McIlroy said a second time. “Give him a little bit of time. He’s still figuring a few things about with equipment, sort of in between drivers and whatever, but he’s close.”
That’s what Woods used to say when he was changing his swing on healthy knees and a back that had not been touched four times by surgeries. He used to get it sorted out eventually, winning majors with three different swings.
But now, the talk about being close is more about simply getting into contention.
Woods began his latest comeback with a tie for 23rd at Torrey Pines three weeks ago, a return that brought promise because of the difficult conditions and thick rough. He refused to call it a setback when he had eight bogeys in his round of five-over 76 to miss the cut by four shots at Riviera on Friday.
“I missed every tee shot left and I did not putt well ... and consequently never made a run,” Woods said. “I knew I had to make a run on that back nine and I went the other way.”
His hopes of playing the weekend ended with a three-putt bogey from 40 feet on the 11th, a three-putt bogey from 80 feet on the 12th and a tee shot pulled badly to the left and into the trees, leaving him a 3-iron instead of a wedge into the green. He made a third straight bogey.
Two weeks and six rounds into his return, Woods has work to do.
“I’m both pleased and also not very happy with some parts of it,” Woods said when asked what he thought of his game. “It’s nice to be back competing again and to be able to go out there and play, practise after each round. That’s been nice, something I haven’t done in years. So keep building.”
He gets back to the construction site next week at the Honda Classic.
Woods was asked at the start of the week if he would be better off as an assistant captain or a player for the Ryder Cup, assuming he had a good enough year to finish around 20th in the points, high enough to be considered for a pick. His answer: Why not both?
One part should come true. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk is expected to appoint Woods and Steve Stricker as vice-captains on Tuesday during the Honda Classic. That’s not an indication that Woods has lowered expectations or goals.
The unknown in this case is how much time he needs to get to where he wants to be.
It was announced on Friday, after Woods began his second round, that he is playing the Honda Classic next week. “I’ve just got to play more tournaments,” he said.
What stood out over two days is that Woods can’t afford to drop shots the way Justin Thomas and McIlroy can. He doesn’t make birdies at a rate they can, mainly because he doesn’t give himself enough chances.
“I think everyone just has to be patient with him – especially him being patient with it – and just give him time,” McIlroy added.