Tide changes quickly for Tiger Woods

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PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Game in chaos. Walking off courses. Public apologies. Reputation compromised.

Tiger Woods? No, Rory McIlroy, who seems to have figured out how to be, well, Rory McIlroy again. Because honestly, nobody knows who that was impersonating him in 2013.

Same goes for Woods this season. Missed fairways. Missed putts. Missed 54-hole cuts.

You've heard the early-2014 chatter: Woods is a golf wreck. His game needs triage. Win a major? Woods will be lucky to contend in a minor.

And so it goes.

The chatter is ridiculous, of course. It was ridiculous when he was shooting 79 and finishing T-80 at Torrey Pines in January. It was ridiculous when he was finishing 41st at the Dubai Desert Classic in February. It was ridiculous after he limbo danced under the cut line here at the Honda Classic.

Woods shot a 5-under-par 65 on Saturday to move from scoreboard obscurity to respectability. He's back!

Actually, no, he's not. Because he was never gone.

The dumbest thing you can do when discussing Woods is declare his game in decline. Woods leads the world in proving those people wrong.

A 65 at PGA National on the first day of March means something, and it means nothing. It means that Woods hasn't forgotten how to go low when the early morning conditions offer the occasional opening. It means he won't have the second earliest tee time again, as he was Saturday. It means he sank a few putts, played the par-3s well and flushed more than a few shots.

"I didn't feel like I had much of a swing [Friday], but today I hit the ball really solid, which was nice," said Woods, channeling his inner Carl Spackler.

But is it a season changer? A year from now, will we look back at Round 3 of the Honda Classic and say that was Woods' "A-ha!" moment? Of course not. It was one round, one 65.

"Today was a positive day," he said.

Exactly.

Don't judge Woods by what happened here Saturday. Or by what happened at Torrey. Or Dubai. His peers don't.

"He's played what, a couple of tournaments?" said his playing partner Luke Guthrie. "I've already played in six or seven, and if I struggle for a few weeks, nobody notices. I wouldn't read too much into how he's started.

"When I heard that stuff, I kind of chuckled. One round, one shot doesn't define anybody."

Guthrie had never been paired with Woods before. "Obviously the No. 1 player in the world, and maybe going to be the best ever," Guthrie said. "Learned some stuff, and tried to beat him."

He came close. They shot matching scores.

"I'm sure if you asked him, he didn't hit it his absolute best today -- and he shoots 65," Guthrie said.

This is Woods' third tournament of the season. Anyone who thought he was going to start the year box cutter-sharp hasn't been paying attention. He's been hanging out with his two kids. With his girlfriend Lindsey Vonn. Golf had to sit in the back seat.

He's also 38 with a history of surgeries and a sometimes dodgy back. Allowances have to be made.

Woods is pacing himself. Smart move. He has about five weeks between now and the Masters. That's when you can start judging his game again. Not now. Not here.

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