Dave George: Tiger hasn’t won Honda — but history says he’ll soon make himself at home

Only Tiger Woods could miss the cut with a sideways 79 in his most recent PGA Tour event and still be thinking about grabbing the next available trophy.

There’s just no changing his stripes, or his mind. Golf tournaments are for winning, and the Honda Classic, set to launch at sunrise Thursday, is the one Tiger plans on winning next.

“I’ve come close,” Tiger said Wednesday, with a final-round 62 and a runner-up finish here two years ago as an unspoken reference point. “I’ve only played it (the Honda) a few times. It’s probably just that.”

Oh, he’s confident all right, or at least he’s convincing himself that he is confident. In the end, does it really make a difference?

“If I hit it great and win, or if I slap it all over the place and win, I win,” he said at the end of Wednesday’s pro-am round. “That’s the intent.”

More than that, it’s pretty much the story of this athlete’s life. For all the concern over his five-season slump in the majors, Tiger remains No. 1 in the World Golf Rankings, and by a large margin, over No. 2 Adam Scott, the defending Masters champion.

Scott, a terrific player who happily has joined the Honda field this year, is wondering how his game will respond this week after an extended break. Tiger? Not so much.

“Peaking is the real art form,” Scott said. “You know, the best player, Tiger, has managed to win when he’s not playing his best and then still be able to peak at the times he wants, so I guess that’s really the benchmark.”

Back to that 79, the one that Tiger shot at Torrey Pines a month ago. Not only did it tie the worst score he’s ever turned in on U.S. soil, it came on a Southern California course he commonly crushes, with seven regular PGA Tour titles and a U.S. Open championship as confirmation.

Tiger has been back and forth to Dubai since that squirrely score and he’s worked on his putting, both at home on Jupiter Island and up at the Medalist Club in Hobe Sound. More than that, he has rebooted mentally, aiming squarely at Augusta National just six weeks down the road.

Is it possible, then, that his 2014 season might go from zero to 60 this week at PGA National, or more accurately from zero to a string of 66’s and 67’s and such?

Depends on a variety of factors, including the messy start that’s in the forecast for today’s opening round. Tiger may miss the worst of it with his 7:35 a.m. start time off the No. 10 tee. Either way, there is fresh evidence to support the theory that Tiger could be ready to rebound, and it comes from his recent history on the Florida Swing.

First he struggled just to make it to the weekend in the 2013 Honda Classic, landing right on the cut line, and finished up in a tie for 37th with no sub-par rounds whatsoever.

What came next, however, would be considered ridiculous if produced by any other golfer. Coming directly off his mediocre performance in the Honda, Tiger won Doral and Bay Hill, finished fourth at the Masters and then won again at the Players Championship.

How’s that for a disappointing season? Got him voted the PGA Tour Player of the Year, that’s all, and for the 11th time.

Wednesday, which went from course-closing fog to brilliant sun to overcast and windy, was a pretty fair indicator of how the Champion’s personality can change. Tiger understands that better than ever, not just because this is his third straight appearance in the Honda Classic but because he’s been soaking up South Florida’s moods at his oceanfront home just north of the Martin County line.

He noted Wednesday that several of his tee shots in the middle of the fairway ended up muddy, an observation that’s sure to push tournament officials toward “lift, clean and place” rules in the first round. Tiger also said that the greens are slower than he expected. That will bring some second-guessing over at the tournament office, too, not because lightning fast is the only proper setting for greens, but because Tiger said it.

Overall, though, there’s nothing to worry about here. Tiger figures to be a Honda Classic fixture for years to come, or at least that’s what you expect from a guy who said Wednesday “I love playing here.”

He’ll love winning here one day, too, just as he did, and eight times no less, at his former “hometown” tour event, the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando.

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