Tiger Woods hopes to ‘keep progressing’ at Valspar

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Tiger Woods doesn’t have much in common with the average golf fan, but like the multitudes who watch him on television and crowd along gallery ropes, his curiosity sent him to the Internet to search out how he stands in the PGA TOUR’s stats.

Woods’ progress in this latest comeback dominates headlines whenever he tees it up, but there’s no one more interested in Woods’ performance than the man himself. There was only problem when Woods peeked at the PGA TOUR’s myriad of metrics, though.

“I’m not even on the rankings. I haven’t played enough rounds,” he said. His performance at The Honda Classic led many to believe that his 80th win could come this year, but that optimism is tempered by the realization that Woods is still in the nascent stages of this comeback.

“I think I’ve come around very quickly. I’ve only played 10 rounds,” Woods said. “I know people are saying that I’ve been erratic, a little inconsistent, but ten rounds, it’s not that many.”

He’s ranked 132nd in the FedExCup as he seeks to make the Playoffs for the first time since 2013. Woods has two top-25s in three starts this season. The two-time FedExCup champion hasn’t qualified for the postseason since finishing second in the 2013 FedExCup.

He’ll play the Valspar Championship’s first two rounds alongside two fellow FedExCup champions, Jordan Spieth and Henrik Stenson. It’s the first time Woods and Spieth have been paired since the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, when Woods fired a second-round 82 en route to a last place finish. Spieth sympathized with an injured player whose every move was being dissected and discussed.

“It was difficult then because you knew he was trying to come back while in some pain, and in his process of rehab wile playing the tournament,” Spieth said Wednesday. “But obviously it’s Tiger. All eyes are on Tiger. It was a difficult thing to watch because … (he’s) bugged every single shot of every single round. He’s going to need some reps on the course.

“The same thing is going on right now. It’s not like he’s had a lot of tournament experience. But, he seems to be more prepared, healthier and ready to go and patient.”

The Valspar Championship will be the first new event for Woods since the 2015 Wyndham Championship, where he finished 10th before his back injuries forced him to take a 15-month layoff.

His short stay at Riviera, where he missed the cut in the Genesis Open, inspired him to add the Valspar to his schedule. Woods is a creature of habit when it comes to scheduling, but he felt healthy enough to add a new stop to his comeback trail.

“After playing Honda and really feeling good about it, I wanted to push myself in my practice sessions, which I did, pushed myself in the gym a little bit,” Woods said. “I can handle two weeks in a row.”

He’ll face a Copperhead Course at Innisbrook that allows players to hit shorter clubs off the tee but is punishing for mishits. It has a strong reputation as being a ball-striker’s course where accurate iron play is a necessity. Like he did in his 12th-place finish at The Honda Classic, Woods will be able to leave the club that has given him the most trouble, the driver, in his bag on a majority of holes.

Woods is gaining strokes in three of the four Strokes Gained Categories. Off-the-Tee would be the lone exception. He’d rank 13th in Strokes Gained: Putting (+0.68) and 42nd in Strokes Gained: Approach (+0.42).

After getting within four shots of the lead in The Honda’s final round, Woods was home last week while one of his contemporaries, Phil Mickelson, was winning the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship. Woods was happy with the way he shaped his shots in the wind at PGA National, but spent his off week trying to raise the trajectory of his iron shots.

When asked what he’d consider a successful week, Woods didn’t discuss victory.

“Keep progressing, making small changes, small tweaks,” he said. “I was able to do it the last tournament I played in and hopefully I can make a few small tweaks this week.”

Woods has shown he’s capable of contending, but this early in his return, he’s measuring success by a different metric.

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