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Sunday, February 2, 2014
Updated: February 3, 8:00 AM ET
Should Tiger play more or less?

In his first start to 2014, Tiger Woods placed 80th at Torrey Pines of all places. This past week, he could muster only a T-41 in Dubai. So how much of that troubling start is offseason rust and how much can be attributed to other factors?

And what will it take for Rory McIlroy to get back to that No. 1 position in the world rankings?

Our scribes dive into those topics and more in the latest edition of Four-Ball.

1. How should Tiger get himself out of this early-season funk?

Michael Collins, senior golf analyst: Tiger is doing exactly what he needs to do -- take some time off. Now he needs to use that time doing what he has said he loves to do and Allen Iverson hated. "We talkin' 'bout practice, man." Eat, rest, practice, rest, repeat. Do that until the Honda Classic.

Farrell Evans, senior golf writer: Tiger needs to play more. He's reportedly skipping the Accenture Match Play, so he's going to have almost a month off before his next start at the Honda Classic. How can he be competitively sharp with those kinds of gaps between events?

Bob Harig, senior golf writer: Practice. It's really that simple. Indications are he spent the offseason working on his body and not his game. Perhaps that is the proper approach but it was nonetheless a disappointing start to a new year.

Kevin Maguire, senior golf editor: A few more competitive rounds wouldn't hurt because clearly he needs some work after the worst two-tournament start to a year in his career. Because it sounds as if he's skipping the WGC-Match Play, that really would leave only the Northern Trust Open at Riviera, which seems about as likely as a Super Bowl outside New York City. Hmm.

2. What should Tiger work on most between now and the Honda Classic?

Collins: Tiger has got to figure out the driver. Best way to do that? Go to a new course and bet your friends on every tee ball. If you miss the fairway, the payment should hurt. For Tiger, that would be anything more than $10. To get better with the driver, it won't do him any good to practice at courses he's comfortable on. Get good when you're uncomfortable.

Evans: No amount of practicing or weightlifting can replace tournament competition. The best advice that Sean Foley can give Tiger is to play tournaments.

Harig: Everything needs work, but after seemingly figuring out an issue with his driver, putting seems to be the most off. Woods simply didn't make anything in Dubai.

Maguire: It's fair to say the driver, but it's more than that. Woods talked over and over in Dubai about his alignment, which seems legitimate. In the past, when Tiger struggled with the driver, he either played army golf (left-right-left) or he was snap-hooking them into the rough or worse. This past week, he'd aim into the left rough and play for a cut, but the left-to-right ball flight would never materialize, leaving the ball to go dead straight. If he can figure that out, expect more of the rest of his game to fall into place.

3. How far off is Rory from his old No. 1 form?

Collins: Not too far. Even with the win at the end of last year, getting back into the form that he once had is a process. From what I've seen, he's about 70 percent of where he was, which is good news. To me, it means he should be peaking by Augusta.

Evans: Rory looked mostly good in Dubai. He struggled in the final round, but that swagger has returned to his game. We forget sometimes that he's only 24. When he gets back to No. 1, he will be more mentally prepared to sustain that high level. Don't be surprised to see McIlroy regain that top spot by the summer.

Harig: If you believe that Sunday was simply one of those days as he suggested, he's not far off at all. The way he played in shooting 63 Thursday was impressive. He could stand to hole a few more putts.

Maguire: Not far, but McIlroy, like Tiger, needs more work in competitive play. If you go by the Northern Irishman's opening round, he's the best player in the word right now. If you go by his final round, his current No. 6 ranking is probably too high. The truth is probably closer to No. 1 than No. 6, but consistency will be the key and that's no easy task.

4. Fact or fiction: Woods won't play the WGC-Match Play for the foreseeable future after likely deciding to skip it this year.

Collins: Fact (with an asterisk). If and when they move the event to a different course, we might see Mr. Woods back. See Mickelson/Humana/Classic Club as a perfect example. Until then, I don't see Tiger playing in the event again for the foreseeable future.

Evans: Fact. The 79-time PGA Tour winner would love to play match play only once a year at either the Ryder Cup or the Presidents Cup. Tiger is very proud of his three U.S. Amateurs, but he's happy to leave that format to his amateur days. He would much rather prove himself over four days of stroke play.

Harig: Fiction. This appears to be a one-year decision. He's not fond of the course (and has not advanced past the second round in four tries). Plus, the event is all but certain to switch venues for 2015.

Maguire: I'll say fiction, but only because it's a WGC event. When a tournament drops off Tiger's schedule, the odds of it returning are slim to none. Expect Tim Finchem to get in Tiger's ear about this one, especially because it looks as if Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott won't be in the desert for the five-day event. I'll be more surprised if Tiger misses this next year, though.