Here we go again.
Tiger Woods will play in the AT&T National at Congressional Country Club this week, which means it's time to contemplate how the man who was once the surest bet in sports became a human stock-market irregularity. He's pretty much all the way back. He's not back. He's definitely back — unless, um, he's not.
The last time we saw Woods, he was making us media types look even sillier than usual, shooting a rock-solid opening-round 69 at the U.S. Open at Olympic Club to become the presumed winner with 54 holes to play. (No, really!) He shot a second-round 70 to go into the weekend tied for the lead, a position from which he was 8-1 at closing out majors. And then he shot 75-73 to tie for 21st place and become the golf media's answer to Thomas E. Dewey.
"I would say certainly my short game has been something that has taken a hit," Woods said at his press conference at Congressional on Tuesday, "and it did the same thing when I was working with Butch and the same thing when I was working with Hank. During that period of time, my short game went down, and it's because I was working on my full game.
"Eventually I get to a point where the full game becomes very natural feeling," he added, "and I can repeat it day after day, and I can dedicate most of my time to my short game again. If you ask some guys, short game is like 150 in because that's how far they hit their wedges now."
The last part of that quote is the most important, because if you watched Woods closely at Olympic, he was slightly off with his distance control into the greens even on Thursday. He blistered a drive well down the 10th fairway on his second hole of the day and then hit a little flip wedge five yards too far and watched his ball come to rest on the back fringe. What should have been a birdie chance was now just another two-putt par waiting to happen. It did.
"I need to hit the ball a little bit closer than I did that week," Woods said.
In other golf action, the European tour features a tournament with at least as much cachet as the AT&T: the Irish Open at Royal Portrush.
Second-ranked Rory McIlroy, who has missed the cut in three of his last four starts and is even more enigmatic than Woods these days, headlines the field, which also includes a resurgent Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell, Keegan Bradley and Branden Grace, already a three-time Euro tour winner this season.
Unlike the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, and the Memorial, this will not be Woods's last start before a major. He will also play for the first time in next week's Greenbrier Classic in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., before taking a week off to prepare for the British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
Still, Woods will get extra scrutiny at Congressional because even after nearly two years we're not sure what to make of his results under Sean Foley.
Woods shot a 62 to nearly steal the Honda Classic from Rory McIlroy in March. He was a ghost from the past, a living highlight reel, like Nicklaus, then 58, seriously contending at the '98 Masters. Tiger was back!
A week later Woods withdrew from the final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship, citing a sore left Achilles tendon. He wasn't back.
Two weeks later he won at Bay Hill, his first victory in a full-field PGA Tour event in 923 days (back), and two weeks after that, after a great deal of Woods v. McIlroy preamble, both tied for 40th at the Masters, Wood's worst result as a pro at Augusta National (not back).
Then came the Memorial, where Woods's electrifying victory came with the old stand-bys — a wildly improbable chip-in followed by a thrilling, joyous uppercut. He was absolutely back, until his weird weekend in South San Francisco, which included a chunky chip (Saturday) and a six-over start through six holes (Sunday).
Which Tiger will show up at Congressional?
PGA Tour Notes: Woods will play the first two rounds with K.J. Choi and Nick Watney, both of whom have also won the AT&T National. U.S. Ryder Cup team captain Davis Love III will play with likely team members Dustin Johnson and Hunter Mahan. … Marc Leishman came from six behind to win the Travelers Championship in Hartford, continuing the year of the comeback on Tour. Kyle Stanley came from eight behind in Phoenix, and Brandt Snedeker and John Huh were seven back when they won in San Diego and Mayakoba. Phil Mickelson was six behind going into the last day at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. … For his ace on the 161-yard, par-3 16th hole at Hartford on Sunday, his first hole-in-one on Tour, Rory Sabbatini (T18) won an 18-karat gold Rolex watch valued at $27,650 courtesy of Lux Bond & Green. … Amy Sabbatini, Rory's wife, surprised four military moms-to-be who are expecting twins. Amy announced she would pay for the women — whose spouses are members of the U.S. Navy, Naval Submarine School and Connecticut Army National Guard — to fly their moms in for the births.
Champions Notes: Leishman tapped in for 62 two hours and 22 minutes before the last putt dropped in Hartford. The situation could not have been any more different on the Champions tour, where Mark Calcavecchia's four-shot win at the Montreal Championship marked the 21st consecutive event in which the winner has come from the final group. … Greg Norman will make his first start on the 50-and-over circuit since '09 at the Constellation Senior Players Championship at Fox Chapel G.C. in Pittsburgh. He'll be one of eight members of the World Golf Hall of Fame in the field, a group that also includes Hale Irwin, Tom Kite, Ben Crenshaw, Tom Watson, Tony Jacklin, Sandy Lyle, and Larry Nelson. … Jacklin hasn't played on the Champions tour since the '07 Senior British Open.
Nationwide Notes: Casey Wittenberg, who earned a spot in the field for the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion by virtue of his T10 at Olympic, won for the second time this year on the Nationwide tour at last week's Preferred Health Systems Wichita Open. The last player to earn a battlefield promotion to the PGA Tour (by winning three times on the Nationwide) was Michael Sim in 2009. … The inaugural United Leasing Championship at Victoria National Golf Club in Newburgh, Ind., is the 13th of 27 events on the 2012 Nationwide tour schedule.
LPGA Notes: Two-time defending champion Yani Tseng goes for her third straight victory at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship at Pinnacle C.C. in Rogers, Ark. … Duke has won five NCAA titles and 16 ACC championships, but Brittany Lang's victory at the Manulife LPGA Classic in Canada last week made her the first former Blue Devil to win an LPGA event.