LOS ANGELES (AP) — Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy were talking 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 all Woods really needs his 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 for emphasis. “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 5-over 76 to miss the cut by four shots at Riviera.
“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 at Riviera ended with a three-putt bogey from 40 feet on No. 11, a three-putt bogey from 80 feet on No. 12 and a tee shot he pulled badly to the left and into the trees, leaving his a 3-iron instead of a wedge into the green. He made a third straight bogey.
Two weeks and six rounds into his return, he 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, practice 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 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 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.
Woods showed plenty of good golf.
His tee shot on the reachable par-4 10th, one of the most dangerous holes for any player who gets out of position, was close to perfection. The tee shot stopped just short of the left edge of the green, and Woods opted for a putter that he sent to the high side of a shallow green with perfect pace so that it caught the slope and trickled down to a few feet of the cup. Tap-in birdies at No. 10 are rare.
His power was evident by hitting his driver out there with McIlroy and Justin Thomas. His putting was noticeably better at Torrey Pines and for one round — Thursday — at Riviera. His concern over two tournaments has been his iron play, particularly distance control.
“One of my hallmarks of my whole career is I’ve always hit the ball pin-high with my iron shots, and I have not done that,” he said. “My wedge game is fine, but my normal irons shots that I’ve always had dialed in for much of my career, it’s just not there.”
And neither is his scoring.
What stood out over two days is that Woods can’t afford to drop shots the way Thomas and McIlroy can. He doesn’t make birdies at a rate they can, mainly because he doesn’t give himself enough chances. It’s like every tournament is an old-style U.S. Open where the premium is on par.
That should change over time.
“He struggled a little bit more today, but he hits enough good shots to know that if pieces it all together, he’s going to be right there,” McIlroy said. “I think everyone just has to be patient with him — especially him being patient with it — and just give him time. It’s a good thing he’s playing next week just to get back at it.”