GAINESVILLE, Va. -- Tiger Woods is still mired in the process of installing a baseline shift, trying to figure out spin rates and feels and traj. He's done it before and he feels close to doing it again.
The problem for Woods is that he's seemingly running out of time in this 2014-15 PGA Tour season to make much more progress inside the ropes.
Barring an unlikely win at this week's Quicken Loans National, Woods, who enters the week at No. 266 in the Official World Golf Ranking, will not qualify for next week's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. A win at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, which would be his 80th career PGA Tour title, is the only way Woods can crack the world top 50 and land a tee time at Firestone Country Club, a place he has won eight times in his career.
"Kind of funny I won there a couple years ago," Woods said Tuesday. He added, "Unfortunately, I can't get an invite there unless I win."
If that's the case, then Woods likely has just one more tournament remaining on his schedule this season: the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in two weeks. As a four-time Wanamaker trophy winner, Woods is set for life in the year's final major. Without a sudden return to form, Woods will miss out on qualifying for the FedEx Cup playoffs for the third time in five seasons. That'll leave him without a place to play for the four-event, five-week stretch.
Woods won't humble himself to play in Reno opposite the WGC event, and he's not going to show up in the Web.com Tour Finals, which runs alongside the FedEx Cup playoffs. He talks about needing and wanting reps, but he doesn't need them that badly.
In other words, we're probably not going to see Woods for a while -- at least until October, when Woods is set to play in the Frys.com Open in California, a start promised to the PGA Tour as a favor being given the green light to play the European Tour's Turkish Airlines Open in 2013.
Woods doesn't seem all that concerned about the lack of golf on his calendar. He's been spending time with his children in the Caribbean, fishing and snorkeling. He caught some of the highlights of the British Open's Monday finish, but he wasn't glued into Jordan Spieth's chase of the single-season Grand Slam.
The 39-year-old 14-time major winner looks like a guy tired of answering the same questions with the same answers. He mostly spared the media of the buzzword bingo that has recently accompanied his poor results. He didn't have excuses nor newfangled ways of explaining fairly innocuous golf concepts. That could only mean one of two things: either Woods is finally ready to seek out answers instead of explanations or he's tired of trying to convince us and himself that things are getting better inside the ropes.
It has to be difficult for Woods to maintain his I've-done-this-before mantra when it's so evident that he is struggling to take what he does so well when it doesn't count into the arena where he used to dominate. He knows he's just not getting the job done right now. So why not spend some time with the kids? It's more fun.
His kids also represent the few people who Woods knows will be at his side for the rest of his life. In 10 years, he'll still have an agent and a press representative, but the calls won't be as constant.
Woods' friends he made when he came out on Tour 20 years ago are all either on the Champions Tour, on TV or on TV while moonlighting on the Champions Tour. The rotating door of new faces leaves Woods, who is a part-time player, looking for familiarity when he looks up and down the range. None of the new guys are scared of him. He has earned their respect, but not their fear.
Every great athlete goes through this phase of decline before their superstar fades to nay a burning ember. For golfers, it's especially painful since careers are so long and the money connected to the game remains good despite a bad turn of form. However, Woods, the first billionaire athlete, is unique. Woods doesn't need the 50-plus circuit. Hell, he doesn't need golf anymore. But he still has things he wants to accomplish, including a burgeoning course-design business that could be the link to the game that keeps him engaged long after the chases of Nicklaus and Snead are finished.
Perhaps Woods is checking out of the game temporarily and all it would take is one truly good tournament to awaken his interest. However, at the moment, Woods looks in a funk and tired of the sport's repetitive practice -- that is, of trying to convince everyone, including himself, that the best, or at least some good, is still ahead.