Woods isn't the outright betting favorite this week at Royal Liverpool. That would be Rory McIlroy at 12-1, but he's followed by six players, including Woods, at 16-1. Think about that for a moment. He has played two competitive rounds since March 31, and he's still getting lower odds than Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Matt Kuchar and Dustin Johnson.
But strange things can happen at an Open Championship. Darren Clarke winning at Sandwich in 2011 can happen. Tom Watson, at age 59, almost winning at Turnberry in 2009 can happen. Todd Hamilton at Troon in 2004, and Ben Curtis at Sandwich in 2003 can happen.
"I've gotten stronger since [the surgery]," Woods said. "I've gotten more explosive. I've gotten faster since then. ... I'm only going to get strong and faster, which is great."
That's nice. But if playing at Congressional was a baby step, then playing at Royal Liverpool is a slow jog. It means something but not everything. It means the comeback continues. Or, as Woods likes to say, "a process."
A Woods win this week would nudge ahead of Watson's improbable AARP-ish near victory and lap the rest of the names on that list. It would be memorable, indelible, a full chapter for his memoir -- if he ever writes one.
I'm rooting for it. It would be the best story on a tee sheet full of cool stories. (Mickelson going back-to-back on Claret Jugs? Justin Rose going for three wins in a row? Martin Kaymer going for back-to-back Opens -- U.S. and British?)
But if it doesn't happen, there's no reason to start hyperventilating again. It doesn't mean Woods is a shadow of a shadow of himself. It doesn't mean he's washed up at 38 or that he's quit caring.
All it really means is that he's still recovering from back surgery. That his body and swing are trying to catch up to his motivation. That it's harder to win today than it was in 2006.
On Tuesday, someone asked Woods what has gotten more of a reaction in the past: the green jackets he has won at the Masters or the Claret Jugs he has won at the Open Championship.
"I think that more people wanted to drink out of the Jug," he said.
Woods would like to do the same come Sunday night. That's his version of an acceptable finish. Chug from the Jug or bust.
It's an admirable goal, but not necessary. Not this week.