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Saturday, January 27, 2018

Tiger Takes a Successful First Step at Torrey

Maybe it wasn't the glorious showing that many of his fans hoped for. But when Tiger Woods made the cut at -1 after his second round, the roar from the gallery showed they were excited nevertheless.

Tiger at Torrey Pines

I was thrilled as well. Tiger has made no secret that this week was about taking a first step toward the Masters. Making this cut goes a long way toward making that trip. And after two full rounds -- with the promise of two more -- I think we can make a few observations about his progress so far.

It certainly appears that his body is healthy and that he is in a good frame of mind, as evidenced by his interactions with the crowds and media both during and after his rounds. I think it also shows in his more realistic expectations at this point in his journey back. We aren't hearing the "I'm here to win" speech; rather, we're hearing his own uncertainty about how he can perform under pressure and his need to relearn what his body can and can't do. This is certainly different from his last attempts to regain his form.

And while his game is clearly rusty -- has he even been on a hill since his last surgery? -- it's also clear that he's made some good progress. His lag putting and short game were extremely good for a man who hasn't played four rounds at an official Tour event in nearly two-and-a-half years. His speed and general form are still looking good after a month of daily golf, even if his "sequencing" comes and goes under the pressure and adrenaline of competitive golf. That's to be expected.

But perhaps best of all, he showed that he is still capable of finding a way to score when his game isn't all that good. That tells me that he's in a good place mentally, and it's just a matter of time and practice before his confidence comes back. If he can make the cut at Torrey with the game we saw over the last two days, there's real hope that he can make it all the way back.

I'll be very interested to see how he plays over the next two days, now that the pressure of making the cut is gone and he can simply focus on trying to chase the lead. Will he catch it? I doubt it but that's not what's important at this point. What are his goals going forward?

Tiger has said it himself -- he needs to learn how his body responds on the weekend at a "real" tournament. Nick Faldo agreed. And over at ESPN Andy North said Tiger needed the opportunity to find a go-to shot, something he could only do during an actual tournament. These are all realistic goals.

Will he achieve them this weekend? Probably not... but he can make a good start toward them. And that's really all you can ask from a good first step.

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