Can Tiger Woods begin to turn back the clock at the Memorial?
The first time Tiger Woods played a competitive round at Muirfield Village Golf Club he shot 78, then assuaged his anger by eating 10 tacos. The next day he shot 66. He was 16.
Those were the days, when he could eat 10 tacos with impunity. Those were the days, as well, that Woods turned to when he took up with yet another new instructor, Chris Como, six months ago. "We looked at a lot of video from when I was a junior," he said shortly after his work with Como began. "And it was quite interesting to see where my swing was then and how much force I could generate with a very skinny frame. That's kind of what we are getting back into."
Tiger Woods with Memorial host Jack Nicklaus in 2012 (Getty Images)
Woods, 39, was the best junior player in the world then, already a two-time U.S. Junior Amateur champion with a future that was blindingly bright.
This week, Woods returns to Muirfield Village, for the Memorial, which should help clarify whether his bid to turn back the clock and reclaim his standing in golf is progressing, whether he even has a future capable of producing the kind of breathless anticipation he engendered before leaving a void that has been filled by committee.
His name has rarely surfaced during the better part of the last two months, while Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler have alternated in the role vacated by Woods via his lackluster performances while playing an abbreviated schedule.
Woods has given no indication that better days are ahead. He tied for 69th in the Players Championship and tied for 17th in the Masters, 13 strokes behind Jordan Spieth. Prior to that, he withdrew from the Farmers Insurance Open and missed the cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
But now he's had six months to work with Como on swing changes, too little time, perhaps, to reap the full benefit, but enough time at least to see improvement, should there be any, from the two-way misses that dogged him at Augusta National and the TPC Sawgrass.
He also has an elevated level of comfort at Muirfield Village. Since he first played there in the U.S. Amateur in 1992 (he lost to Tim Herron in the second round), he has won the Memorial five times, most recently in 2012.
If he's going to launch a comeback, this would seem one of the more logical places for him to do so. From a timing standpoint, two weeks before the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, it's important that he does so.
Whether the Memorial qualifies as a crossroads, who knows. But if he still doesn't know which direction his tee shots are going to go, we'll consider him lost. And even 10 tacos probably wouldn't help him find his way back.