DORAL, Fla. —
The temptation is to declare that Woods is back, though that should come with a note of caution.
It looked like he was back when he won at Bay Hill last year by five shots over Graeme McDowell, and then he tied for 40th in the Masters.
It looked like he had that old magic back when he rallied to win the Memorial, and then he went into a weekend fog at The Olympic Club and didn’t crack the top 20.
And while he has won twice this year, his record includes a missed cut to start the year at Abu Dhabi, and a tie for 37th at the Honda Classic when he never broke par any of the four rounds because of two lost balls, four shots in the water and four double bogeys. He also lost in the Match Play Championship, which is not a good measure because he was 2-under par (without a bogey on his card) through 17 holes and ran into a guy (Charles Howell III) who played a little bit better that day.
How he fares at Bay Hill in two weeks — he could go back to No. 1 in the world with a win — will determine the degree of expectations going into the Masters.
McDowell might be the best judge of Woods among players.
He now has played in the final group with Woods three times in just over two years. McDowell saw some shockingly bad shots by Woods at the Chevron World Challenge in December 2010 when he made up a four-shot deficit against Woods and beat him in a playoff behind two clutch birdies.
Woods had a one-shot lead over McDowell in the final round at Bay Hill last year and pulled away in conditions so firm, fast and scary that Woods referred to it as a U.S. Open that broke out in Orlando. Woods won by five.