Tiger Woods is rusty.
In fairness to the 14-time major champion, that should be the only takeaway from his early departure at Torrey Pines on Friday after rounds of 76-72 led to a missed cut at the Farmers Insurance Open. His short weekend is utterly understandable. Woods' appearance at Torrey Pines marked his first PGA Tour start in 17 months -- the longest hiatus of his career -- after rehabilitating from two back surgeries.
If there's anything we've learned from Woods over the course of his illustrious career, it's this: Tiger needs "reps." That was evident at Torrey, particularly with his driver, which was all over the place.
Luckily for us, two encouraging signs emerged from La Jolla.
First -- this might be just me -- did Tiger seem extra happy? He was smiling perhaps more than I've ever seen in competition -- almost a sense of rejuvenation.
Second, he didn't show any signs of a setback. That's great news for the game and even better news for Tiger... especially when we're talking about those all-important "reps."
In his career -- especially early in the season -- it hasn't been uncommon to see Tiger play one week and then take a few off. That's not the case this time around. Immediately following the MC in SoCal, Woods boarded his private jet for a tournament this week in Dubai -- the second of four tournaments in a five-week stretch.
That's a lot of golf for a guy who's been away for nearly a year and a half. But it's great, isn't it? We can only surmise that it means Woods is feeling comfortable with his recovery and feels it's necessary to get in a bunch of rounds to see how he's going to hold up.
There's another factor in Tiger's schedule that we'd be silly not to point out. Between now and the Masters, there are two World Golf Championships events on the schedule -- the Mexico Championship and the Dell Technologies Match Play. Nobody has dominated the World Golf Championships events like Woods, who has tallied a tremendous 18 victories since the series' inception back in 1999. But he's not eligible to play this year.
So, considering his current world ranking number of 666, Woods needs to make up some starts. Thus his accelerated schedule.
All of this testing the body and playing plenty of tournament golf, as Woods pointed out last week, is an effort to prepare for what matters most to him and all top players -- "the first full week in April."
That would be the Masters.
It's encouraging to hear in January, after all that time away, that's where Tiger's mind still goes. And now, provided there are no setbacks before the azaleas are in full bloom in Augusta, Ga., in early April, we'll actually have a pretty decent sample-size of Woods and his game. He'll have his "reps."
In his last 10 Masters tournaments, dating to his last green jacket in 2005, Woods finished outside the top 6 just twice. That was a T40 in 2012 and a T17 in 2015.
Woods still believes he can catch Jack Nicklaus and the all-time record of 18 major victories even though he has been stuck on 14 since the 2008 U.S. Open. If he didn't, why would he still play?
One would think his best shot at winning a major is still at Augusta National, where he's been victorious on four occasions. History, however, may not be on his side.
Only five players Woods' age or older -- he is 41 -- have won the Masters.
Here they are:
1986: Jack Nicklaus, 46 years, 2 months, 24 days
1995: Ben Crenshaw, 43 years, 2 months, 30 days
1978: Gary Player, 42 years, 5 months, 9 days
1954: Sam Snead, 41 years, 10 months, 17 days
1998: Mark O’Meara, 41 years, 3 months
Can Woods join that rarified air? While the window certainly appears to be closing, who's to say -- definitively -- that he can't?