Farmers Insurance Open 2015: Tiger Woods faces race against time to find form and preserve elite status

He is entitled to the benefit of the doubt for now, but he can’t hang about. McIlroy and Co wait for no man

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The Independent Online

There was no blood on the floor this time, at least not on the ski slope. Tiger Woods chose Beaver Creek in Colorado earlier this week over practice for the Farmers Insurance Open, which begins at Torrey Pines on Thursday.

Given he has finished last in each of his past two tournaments, the most recent a week ago in Phoenix, it was a surprise that Woods should elect to watch his partner, Lindsey Vonn, contesting the Super-G rather than hit balls on the range with the rest of the field.

At least it passed off without incident. No missing teeth and no skeleton mask to conceal his identity, though he might consider its deployment in California if there is no improvement in form.

Woods’ nosedive since returning from surgery on his back led to him dropping out of the world top 50 for only the second time in his career. When he did pitch up for  today’s pro-am, fog delayed the start of play, further  hampering preparations.

Unless he arrests the slide, he will miss the first elite field event of the year, the WGC-Cadillac in Miami next month. He insists the dip is temporary but that is not how it looked when he was knifing chip shots across the greens in Phoenix.

The contrast with Rory McIlroy could not be greater. The world No 1 can afford to ship some £20m in a court settlement and still come out smiling. McIlroy and Woods are scheduled to come together for the first time this year at the Honda Classic later this month, ironically the tournament where McIlroy’s year began to implode so spectacularly in 2013. We know how he has turned things around.

At 39, Woods is running out of time and credibility. Not only is there a cluster of young thrusters, led by McIlroy, who are moving the dial on the course, off it there is a generation of golf watchers who are untouched by the Woods aura.

They have no memory of his great deeds, care little for nostalgia. Instead they incline towards McIlroy and the likes of Rickie Fowler and Billy Horschel, both of whom Woods partners on Thursday, the remarkable Jordan Spieth and the new hammer on the tee box, Brooks Koepka, winner of his first PGA Tour title at Phoenix last weekend after Woods missed the cut.

Woods has come back from the edge of oblivion before, most recently in 2013 when he dovetailed neatly with the free-falling McIlroy to resume his station at the top of the world rankings with five wins that year.

Woods has earned the right to our patience, having carved a career the like of which has never been seen before. Here was an ethnic warrior from a demographic alien to the sport wrapping up 14 majors in record time.

The last of those came seven years ago, and such was the majesty of the shots coming off the blade and the iron-like temperament willing the ball into the hole at the 2008 US Open – coincidentally at Torrey Pines – it would be folly to bury the legend just yet.

The most worrying threat comes with the idea that his mind has gone. The attribute that truly separated Woods from the pack was his ability to stare down any in the field and drain anything inside 15 feet when it mattered.

He acknowledged that part of the problem during this phase of his rehabilitation is mental, trusting the changes being made under new swing consultant Chris Como.

Woods is entitled to the benefit of the doubt for now, but he can’t hang about. McIlroy and Co wait for no man.