Commentary

How did Tiger's game look in debut?

Updated: January 22, 2013, 1:30 AM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates -- Tiger Woods left the Middle East long ago, another tournament to play this week, likely looking forward rather than back. If there is one thing we've learned about Woods over the years, he seems to not dwell on his failures. Certainly not for long.

Rory McIlroy, meanwhile, has another month to stew over his early exit at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, where a couple of 75s were preceded by considerable fanfare as he became a Nike spokesman, put all of the company's clubs in his bag, then struggled.

Of course, some perspective is in order in both cases.

Although Woods will likely explain in more detail this week what happened during the second round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship when he makes his first PGA Tour start of the year at the Farmers Insurance Open, he's probably much more focused on his game and where he can improve.

Somewhat lost in the rules situation that cost Woods a 2-stroke penalty and caused him to miss the 36-hole cut in the European Tour event was his uneven play over two rounds.

Every player can point to circumstances in rounds that cost him, but Woods has two simple ones: He played the first and second holes at Abu Dhabi Golf Club in 4-over par. The first is a relatively easy par-4, the second a par-5. At the very worst, Woods should play those four holes in 1 under. That's three pars and a birdie. He made all bogeys, a difference of 5 shots.

Woods missed the cut by 1 stroke, so the way he played those first two holes contributed greatly to him heading home early. He failed to hit those greens in regulation, and had some difficulty off the tee, managing to find just 11 of 28 fairways over two days. He hit only 19 of 36 greens.

But he made a nice run on the back nine Friday in what appeared to be a move to make the cut, and who knows how he might have fared over the weekend? It's hard to tell much from two rounds. As his swing coach Sean Foley said, "It was nine hours of golf."

In other words, don't get too caught up in such a small body of work. It's very little to judge, really. Woods putted nicely, but was not sharp in other areas. He had some distance control issues, as well as difficulty hitting fairways. There were a few moments when he looked solid, such as the final three holes of his front nine (16, 17 and 18) on Thursday, which was promptly undone by a topped drive that led to a bogey at the first. For the next 18 holes, Woods struggled, the penalty only adding to his woes.

"I didn't hit it particularly well," Woods said in his few comments about the second round. "I putted great but just didn't hit it very well."

He can get right back at it this week at Torrey Pines, perhaps the perfect place to return. Woods skipped the tournament a year ago because it conflicted with the Abu Dhabi event, but it has traditionally been very good to him. He has won the PGA Tour event there six times, finishing outside of the top 10 once -- a tie for 44th in 2011. It is also where he captured the 2008 U.S. Open.

As for McIlroy, he is staying in the Middle East and said he would spend the week practicing in Dubai. Unless he decides to add another tournament -- perhaps next week's Dubai Desert Classic? -- McIlroy is not scheduled to play again until the WGC-Accenture Match Play at the end of February.

If he were to get bounced early, McIlroy would head to the Honda Classic with very few competitive rounds in 2013 -- which is just what he needs to get used to his new clubs.

Then again, much of the angst has to do with the high-profile nature of his endorsement deal. And in retrospect, McIlroy was in a tough spot. The Jan. 14 Nike announcement was an all-day deal for him. The next day he met the media, barely practiced before seeing a few holes of the course. Wednesday was the pro-am and then came the tournament. Players switch clubs all the time, but not under that kind of glare.

"He's just not quite ready yet," said Ernie Els, who has made a couple of significant equipment changes in his career. "He can play with any clubs. He could play with left-handed clubs, he's so talented. He needs to put in the work and he'll be fine."

Said Padraig Harrington: "He can't let people get in his head and let him think anything. I played a few holes with him in practice and he was hitting it fine. The problem being the worlds' No. 1, he's in the spotlight, the focus is there. As much as you try to keep your head down, you guys are going to ask him the same questions that are leading. And you get asked that question enough, it gets into your head."

McIlroy has a few weeks without those questions, at least directly. Woods will begin fielding them in a matter of days.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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