LEMONT, Ill. –- Tiger Woods has forever raised eyebrows with regard to his playing schedule, carefully picking his tournaments, never appearing at certain venues, taking weeks off at a time and often waiting until the last minute to commit to play.
Woods always has been the one hitting the ejector button, doling out the rejection slips and making out the dance card based on personal caprices or cold calculations.
|Tiger Woods has a decent round Saturday, but is languishing in 22nd place. (Getty Images)|
Despite posting his best round of the week with a 3-under 68 at the BMW Championship, Woods appears all but officially declared dead in the FedEx Cup playoffs and will need something close to divine intervention Sunday to qualify for the lucrative series finale in Atlanta.
The quest isn't technically impossible. But hey, his favorite baseball team, the L.A. Dodgers, hasn't been mathematically eliminated, either -– but it's only a matter of time.
"I just play, that's all I can do," Woods said when he finished two hours before the leaders. "I'm trying to win this golf tournament ... That's always the focus."
He'll need a microscope to eyeball the fuzzy odds needed to pull off an 11th-hour reprieve. After starting the week at No. 51 in FedEx points, Woods needs to finish T5 or higher based on tour computer projections and even though he has a spectacular record of generating last-minute miracles over the years, this one is a particularly tall order.
Woods moved into a four-way tie for 22nd place at even par overall, which leaves him six shots out of fifth. As though his new swing tweaks aren't complicating things enough, the Cog Hill course has perhaps the worst greens of the year and any putt outside 20 inches often requires equal parts luck and guesswork.
As for the latter, Woods tried to do the crystal-ball estimation of what he needs to do on Sunday to make it to Atlanta and the numbers are pretty jarring.
"As of now looks like probably 61, 62 might have to be the number," he said, speaking more of his chances of winning than advancing. "Guys aren't running away with the tournament. The greens are not good enough to do that. So we'll see what happens."
Specifically, a 65 might be good enough to get Woods into fifth if the players ahead of him accommodate him, but that would match his best score of the year. Worse, the best daily scores at critically panned Cog Hill have been rising, from 64 on Thursday, a 65 on Friday and 66 on Saturday. We rocket scientists in the press call that a trend.
When Woods won at Cog Hill in 2007, he missed two fairways on the weekend and was so dominant that, a week later in Atlanta, his former coach,
That feels like two careers ago. Woods did shoot a 62 in the third round at the BMW last year en route to a runaway, eight-shot victory, but as he was quick to note Saturday, the circumstances aren't remotely analogous. Not just with the state of his game, either.
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"We had perfect greens for last year, which was kind of nice," he said. "It's a little different this year."
Everything has been different for Woods this year, obviously. Now he's again integrating some new swing changes, which have typically taken up to a year to take root. Coincidentally or not, the swing revamping will probably buy him some time to get the rest of his life together.
For now, a two-week break before the Ryder Cup might not hurt, either. Woods has played in four of the five weeks since he began working with a new swing coach, which means his ball-bashing time on the range has been limited.
"It's hard because I'm making a complete swing change while playing," he said. "That's not easy to do. I'm trying to play a golf course, meanwhile, trying to make a lot of different changes, and a change in philosophy, as well, so that's been hard, a hard grind.
"I'm going to get a week off either way, and hopefully it's only one week."
Bet on the fortnight, people. He hasn't putted well all year, the greens look like acne on a leper. Adding another layer of potential tension, Woods will play with longtime foil Phil Mickelson, who is also tied for 22nd.
Mickelson holds a 5-1-1 advantage the last seven times they have been paired, including a victory in their last head-to-head meeting, when Mickelson won the HSBC Champions last Nov. 8. In all, Woods still has an 11-10-4 advantage when they have been in the same group.
At least it ought to be entertaining and take some of the edge off the disappointment of Woods' season. This will not only mark the first time in three tries that Woods won't advance to the FedEx finale, but the first time he hasn't won the $10 million bonus.
Odds are, the only way Woods will be in Atlanta in two weeks is to catch the Sunday night team shuttle to the Ryder Cup matches in Wales. Maybe he can put the two weeks of down time, his first since his divorce was finalized two weeks ago, to good therapeutic use.
Barring the miracle finish, Woods is expected to play on one more PGA Tour-sanctioned event this year, the HSBC in China.
New swing coach Sean Foley is confident he can steer Woods -- who won seven times worldwide last year and 45 percent of his starts over 2½ years entering 2010 -- back toward the form he has displayed over the past few seasons. But by form, we don't mean via using the same swing.
"No, no, no, no, I want to do what we're doing," Foley said earlier this week. "I am definitely going to help him hit the ball better. Him winning and all that is going to come from having more confidence and hitting more fairways.
"But I don't think you have to get him back to anything. That's what he is. We just have to clear up some of the stuff in his swing and let him be who he is, and that's the best champion of all time."