ORLANDO, Fla. — Before Tiger Woods would tee it up in the Genesis Open last month at Riviera, he boldly stated that it was “winning time.’’
Woods would go on to miss the cut that week at a golf course he historically struggles on — just two tournaments into his comeback from a fourth back surgery.
So the “winning time’’ reference at that moment never was realistic.
After an impressive 12th–place finish at the Honda Classic the week after Genesis and a tie for second at last week’s Valspar Championship, however, “winning time’’ is much more applicable to Woods’ expectations at this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.
Because winning is the final piece to this Woods comeback puzzle. It’s the only thing he hasn’t accomplished so far.
He’s proven himself to be physically fit to handle the grind. His swing speed was recently recorded as faster than any player on the PGA Tour this season. He’s made the cut in three of the four PGA Tour events he’s played and progressed in every one of them — tie for 23rd at Torrey Pines, 12th at the Honda and tie for second last week in Palm Harbor, Fla.
Now Woods will tee it up in Thursday morning’s third round alongside Jason Day and Hideki Matsuyama at Bay Hill, a golf course on which he has won in eight of the 17 times he’s played.
Whether Woods likes it or not, his progressing performances early this season has led us to this: Anything short of a win this week will be considered a disappointment.
That, of course, is not fair, based on how difficult it is to win golf tournaments — even if you happen to be Tiger Woods, who’s won 79 of them, including 14 major championships.
Woods, who hasn’t won a tour event since 2013, naturally wouldn’t bite on a question posed to him by The Post on Tuesday about whether this week truly is realistic “winning time.’’ He instead attempted to temper the outside expectations despite his remarkable success at Bay Hill.
“Just because I won here eight times doesn’t mean I’m going to win this week automatically,’’ Woods said. “I’ve still got to do the work. I still got to go through the process of getting myself in position. I understand this golf course, I’ve played it under so many different varying conditions. But I’ve got to do some serious homework to really get to know and get the feel of how this golf course is playing this particular year, considering I haven’t played here in five years.
“I keep saying, ‘Just enjoy this.’ … If you would have asked me this at the Presidents Cup last year [in September at Liberty National], I didn’t know. So for me to go from not knowing whether or not I will ever be able to play the game again to … ‘I might be able to play maybe at the Tour level, [to] actually I might be able to make a couple of cuts, [to] well I might be able to possibly get myself into a mix, [to] oh, I’m in the mix,’ there’s a process and an evolution to it, and it’s been quick.
“But still, I have to say just to enjoy all of this, because at one point that wasn’t even a thought. I didn’t ever even think about playing out here.’’
Now it’s time for him to think about winning.
Now it really is “winning time.’’