Rude: Woods just needs to finish, build confidence

Tiger Woods will try to find his top form at the 2014 WGC-Cadillac Championship in the wake of a back injury.

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Jeff Rude’s “Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday.

Tiger Woods has won four PGA Tour events at Doral. But if he somehow manages a fifth victory this week, it would be his most remarkable success there and perhaps one of the most unlikely wins of his career.

The reasons are many. He’s coming off a Sunday back injury. He hasn’t practiced and is rusty. He doesn’t know and has never played the new Trump National Doral course, redone by Gil Hanse. And Woods hasn’t performed well this year, having tied for 80th at the Farmers Insurance Open and tied for 41st at the Omega Dubai Classic before withdrawing from the Honda Classic after 13 holes Sunday with a back injury similar to one that bothered him late last season.

I’ve not been one to doubt Woods over the years, but I’d be surprised if he were to prevail this week. A more realistic goal than trophy would seem to be health and confidence. After all, his Monday-Wednesday preparation consisted of “treatment nonstop,” chipping and putting, hitting no shots longer than 60 yards and walking the course Wednesday afternoon with caddie Joe LaCava and mapping a game plan.

Woods on Wednesday said his back feels good. He said his famous workouts are designed to prevent injuries and haven’t created them. And he answered those who think he’s too muscle-bound in the upper body by saying, “I’m much smaller than I used to be.”

Maybe, maybe not, with regard to the latter. Recent visuals have made some wonder if he’s more interested in chasing Jack Nicklaus’ major record or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s bench-press mark.

Next month’s Masters, of course, holds much more importance to Woods than this week’s tuneup. Considering recent events, it will be a challenge for him to be prepared and highly confident going to Augusta. But an improved back and positive results could change that outlook quickly.

• Bit of a weird season so far.

This is a year in which the major-championship venues set up nicely for Woods, but he came out rusty and unprepared, has played only six full Tour rounds and suffered the back injury.

What’s more, Phil Mickelson hasn’t fired yet; Rory McIlroy, despite high-level consistency again, hasn’t closed; and Adam Scott was on a six-week break before last week.

But the kids have served notice. The 2013-14 wraparound season began with one player (McIlroy) younger than 25 with multiple Tour victories. Now there are four, what with Harris English, Patrick Reed and Russell Henley joining the club. Interestingly, those three attended Georgia, though Reed transferred to and made his mark at Augusta State.

• McIlroy said he is staying in the new Tiger Woods villa at Doral this week. There are several Woods photos on the walls, McIlroy said Wednesday, to the point he thought about sending Woods a note Tuesday night saying, “I can’t get away from you. I can’t go to the bathroom without thinking about you.”

I’m thinking it’s better that McIlroy was assigned the Woods villa instead of, say, Mickelson. If Mickelson were given that room, he might have done one of three things:

  1. Quickly called the front desk to request new digs.
  2. Turned the Woods photos around or upside down.
  3. Trashed the room and gladly paid for the damage.

• Now that Donald Trump has given Doral a good facelift, perhaps he and his stylist can work on the comb-over.

• At this point, if I had to put money on someone to win the Masters, McIlroy would be the choice. Despite his recent Sunday struggles, I like where he’s headed. He has a hop back in his step and is contending regularly again.

As he said Wednesday, a day after a good practice session, he’s at a “very happy place” with regard to his swing, mental outlook and all parts of his game – except the Sunday stuff.

• There are plenty of reasons, too, to like defending champion Adam Scott’s chances at Augusta, particularly given his simple sentence Wednesday about his return to Honda last week: “My short game felt great.”

But Scott hardly is looking that far ahead, not when he can pass Woods and get to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking this week. As Scott put it, “There’s great motivation for me to (win the WGC-Cadillac Championship).”

• Who wins this week? Think bomber. “Guys who hit it high and long have an advantage because the greens are so firm” and because of certain carries off the tee, McIlroy said.

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