AKRON, Ohio -- Tiger Woods has looked like his old, reliable self in many regards this week, giving the impression that the past few months, if not the last two years, had never happened.
That's certainly been the case as it relates to his inflexible, if not completely unrealistic, demands placed on himself.
Despite having not played a full round since mid-April, Woods has stubbornly insisted that the only satisfactory outcome this week, his only personal expectation, is to win. Of course, for anybody else coming off multiple knee issues, a lengthy stay on the disabled list and myriad personal issues, including the firing of his caddie of over 12 years, that thought would never enter their noggin.
Woods shot a 1-over 71 on Friday in the second round of the Bridgestone Invitational, then demonstrated that while his game is still in the transitional stage, his mule-headedness is in 2000 form.
In a question that was posed as delicately as possible, Woods was asked if giving himself a break on the lofty expectations, and setting a more reasonable goal, would make things a little easier to accept. Before the question was finished, the answer was delivered.
"No," he said adamantly.
Woods has forever declared that "second place sucks," but in some regards, merely being in the hunt on the weekend would be a goal few envisioned as likely this week, given the accumulated rust and the fact that the field is composed of 76 of the game's true studs.
When he shows up after injury or long layoffs, his comments tend to ratchet up the appetite of his fans to impossible levels, where he almost can’t help but fall short. For instance, when Woods arrived at Firestone Country Club on Tuesday and proclaimed he was here to win -- damn the corrosive effects of the layoff and knee issues -- the betting line actually moved and he became a co-favorite.
It might seem an admirable goal, but he paints an almost impossible standard given his current situation. Anything short of victory becomes failure and leads to more potshots, critical ammo and disenchantment among the gallery. Yet Woods wouldn’t even acknowledge the possibility that scaling back his expectations to a reasonable, pragmatic level would not only be less stressful, but make the early stages of his comeback more enjoyable.
Now at 1 under after 36 holes, his game isn’t quite there, but his levels of defiance are same as they ever were.
"Why show up at a tournament if you're not there to win?" he said when the question was repeated. "There's no reason to come."
Because any other player in a similar circumstance would not back themselves into a corner with such bold proclamations.
"I'm not other guys," he said.
Actually, for much of the past two seasons, that's exactly who he has been. Woods has dropped to No. 28 in the world and because of the layoff hasn't even qualified for the FedEx Cup series later this summer. As he finished his second round, he was tied for 36th in a 76-man field.
After a solid opening round, Woods was a bit more uneven on Friday, with a double-bogey on the card and a missed putt from just over two feet -- though his swing tempo continued to make a favorable impression and he continues to pound the ball as far as he ever has off the tee and is only missing fairways by a few feet.
He hasn’t hit a truly forgettable shot either day, which wasn't the case earlier in the season, to be sure.
"I am so close to hitting it on a string," he said.
If and when that day comes, it might be a better time to bust out the brash proclamations and objectives, no?