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Tour Confidential: Can Tiger Fix His Swing Before the Masters, and Is Rory Back?

Tiger Woods
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Tiger Woods was 5 over par and 12 shots back when he withdrew from play on No. 13.

Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. Tiger Woods withdrew from the Honda Classic after 13 holes on Sunday with a bad back after shooting 65 on Saturday. Once his back is healthy, what does Tiger need to do to get back to his winning ways, and does he have time to do it before the Masters?

ANONYMOUS PRO: He will need to add a tournament to his schedule to get his swing organized, but San Antonio is not a good course for him and Houston is the week before the Masters, so he’s unlikely to play there. Given his back and swing issues, I doubt he will be able to get ready for the year’s first major.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Tiger has plenty of time before the Masters to recover, if he's healthy. As usual, a Cone of Silence is draped around Tiger, so we don't know how bad his back is or might be. His game was pretty close to impressive Saturday. Bigger questions: How soon can he get healthy, and how healthy can he get?

Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): What Tiger needs to do can only happen AT the Masters, not before it. He needs to put himself in good position after three rounds at a major, as he has a number of times in the Post Scandal Era, and then follow through with a strong final round. For all the talk of swing changes, short game woes, etc. and so forth (and yeah, he should go back to Butch), the biggest hurdle is a mental one that he hasn't been able to clear.

Eamon Lynch, managing editor, (@eamonlynch): His back isn't the problem. He stands on the tee with a driver in his hands and doesn't trust it. It is hard to win on Tour like that, and harder still to win majors. Good swings beget confidence, lousy swings beget doubt. Right now he's riddled with doubt, and that isn't something easily fixed in the six weeks to Augusta.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@MarkGodich): It is what it is. There are no easy solutions. The biggest issue: A player who needs his reps on the range is dealing with a bad back. Paging Fred Couples.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): He can start by getting healthy, and we've seen him bounce back quickly from past WDs. In 2012, he withdrew from Doral and won Bay Hill two weeks later. So it's possible he'll feel fine at Doral, and it's possible this thing lingers. For Tiger to contend at Augusta, it all starts with health.

Joe Passov, senior editor, courses and travel, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): Obviously, Tiger's 65 proves he's closer to where he wants to be than he was earlier this year. Provided he gets the back healthy, he should be fine. He doesn't have to fret these preliminaries too much. We all know that for him, it's all prep work for Augusta. No matter what his results are between now and then, Augusta will elevate him. He knows every blade of grass there, and he knows he's chasing history. He'll be in the mix for sure.

2. Entering the final round of the Honda Classic with a two-shot lead, Rory McIlroy shot 4-over on Sunday and lost in a playoff. Are we sure Rory’s back?

ANONYMOUS PRO: Rory is back. He is consistently contending in events and won just a few months ago in Australia. He has always been prone to highs and lows, but his highs are still the most exciting shots in golf, as they were when he won majors by eight.

GODICH: It's not that he shot 74 on Sunday. It's that he played the last 12 holes in 5 over par after stretching his lead to three shots. It was refreshing to hear Rory's post-round comments, when he said a victory would have been somewhat hollow based on the way he played on Sunday. He'll be the first to admit that he's not all the way back.

PASSOV: Yes, he's back. Except for Tiger, who has been the sport's greatest frontrunner, everybody has lost leads and playoffs and such. The bigger question is how often you put yourself in the hunt, and Rory seems to be doing this with genuine regularity. Let's not forget that while Phil Mickelson had an amazing year in 2013, he did mess up the 18th at the Scottish Open before winning in a playoff, and seemingly had the Wells Fargo at Quail Hollow in his grasp...oh, and there was that U.S. Open thing at Merion. Most significantly, though, he was right there on Sunday, over and over. That's when you know a guy is "back."

LYNCH: This "He's back!" argument is parochial. He won a riveting showdown with Adam Scott in Australia a couple of months ago. Does it only count if he performs on the PGA Tour? He isn't playing at the level he did in 2011 and 2012, but that's not exactly easy to sustain. Ask Tiger. But compared to much of 2013, McIlroy's form is demonstrably better.

SENS: He played himself into a playoff on the PGA Tour. I'd say that's pretty darned "back." If not, then it's at least a far cry from faking a toothache to get out of a tournament because he was afraid he was going to shoot 90.

RITTER: If he was all the way back, he would've closed it out. But, to borrow one of Tiger's favorite cliches, he's close. That was a tough day for the entire field, and each of the contenders made his share of blunders over the final holes. As of today, I have Rory on my top five list of Masters favorites.

VAN SICKLE: Rory has a few kinks and a few lingering bad swing thoughts to iron out. It's disturbing that he's opened two tournaments with 63s this year and hasn't won either one of them. He needs a closer. Mariano Riviera is available.

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