Those who expected Tiger Woods to bounce back with a vengeance in 2011 were disappointed Saturday and Sunday.
Woods put himself in position with 69-69 in the first two rounds of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, a course he owns like Firestone South. But he came home with 74-75 in his first tournament of the year and finished tied for 44th, 15 shots behind winner Bubba Watson.
Woods had won five consecutive tournaments at Torrey Pines and never finished out of the top 10 there. The comforting environs of his miraculous one-legged U.S. Open victory was no help.
Now working with his third swing coach in Sean Foley, Woods seems too wrapped up in mechanics, which could wreck his chances at the Masters April 7-10 unless he makes marked improvement.
Asked how far away he was on Sunday, Woods said, ''It's progressing. I don't know. It's one of those things where I don't know where the end is. You never know where the end is until you're done with your playing career.''
He said he had higher hopes coming into the tournament.
"I started out hitting it pretty good out here this week and it progressively got worse,'' he said. "We have some things that we need to work on. Sean and I have been talking about it every night. I can do it on the range, but it's a little different when I've got to bring it out here and I've got to shape shots. I've got to hit the ball with the right trajectory.
"These greens are not soft, so you can't just hit any trajectory. Then the wind's blowing and it's a lot. I've got some work to do, which is good.''
Woods said he must avoid letting his old swing motion created under Hank Haney creep back in, just like he did in the transition from Butch Harmon to Haney.
"They're very different swings,'' he said. "It's tough. It's one of the things I struggled with when I worked with Hank trying to relearn some new things and going away from what I did with Butch. The old motor patterns are still there. I'm going to have to fight through that. I've done it before, and there's no reason I can't do it again.
"It's just commitment to change and to moving forward. I'm committed to what I'm doing, and I'm not looking back.''
Other thoughts on the Farmers:
While I'm still baffled why Phil Mickelson laid up on the 72nd hole, then tried to hole out from 72 yards as he attempted to force a sudden-death playoff with Watson, you had to love the reappearance of his wife, Amy. Finally rebounding from her bout with breast cancer, Amy walked 63 holes, according to Golf World. Her presence could be a major boost to Mickelson's game. Mickelson finished alone in second.
I will never be disappointed by a Watson victory, especially from a man who doesn't have a pretentious bone in his body. Making a 12-foot birdie putt at 18 for a two-shot cushion with Mickelson on his heels, Watson seems have gained mental strength since losing his father Gerry to cancer in October. He could be on the verge of a huge year.
You had to love the semi-stiff arm Browns center Alex Mack gave New Orleans safety Roman Harper on Mack's touchdown off two laterals in Sunday's Pro Bowl.
But what was most notable about Mack's score with 16 seconds left in the NFC's 55-41 victory was that Mack looked like one of the few on the field who enjoyed playing. The offensive and defensive linemen stood up at the snap and did nothing. It looked more like touch football than anything to do with the NFL.
Mack was calling for the ball early as the play unfolded. He made the most of his moment, even diving into the end zone, while an announcer wondered if he'd ever been a fullback in high school. According to his bio, Mack played offensive and defensive lines at San Marcos High School in Santa Barbara, Calif.
I wonder how much longer the NFL will continue to stage this game, especially since the players consider the trip to Hawaii a reward rather than a competition. Its days may be numbered, just like the 16-game season.
No. 1 Ohio State escaped with a 58-57 victory Saturday at Northwestern and should be thankful the Wildcats hit only 9 of 30 from 3-point range, 6 of 17 in the second half.
OSU led 27-25 at halftime and made 7 of 10 field goals to start the second half to open at 13-point lead before Northwestern began its comeback. Northwestern was playing without its leading scorer, sidelined with concussion symptoms.
Good signs from the game: Freshman Jared Sullinger had the composure to make the second of two free throws with 3.5 seconds left to give OSU the victory. ... OSU shot 56.8 percent, 66.7 in the second half. ... The Buckeyes hung on while playing before a rabid crowd, with Northwestern seeking its first victory in 16 tries against a No. 1 team. No. 9 BYU (upset at New Mexico) and No. 3 Duke (beaten by St. John's at Madison Square Garden) did not fare as well.
Bad signs: OSU was outrebounded 31-20 and hit only 2 for 8 from 3-point range. ... Jon Diebler seemed totally out of the flow, both offensively (1 for 4 for 3 points) and defensively. ... Must admit I've never seen a 7-point play like the one the Wildcats pulled off during their rally. Michael Thompson nailed a 3-pointer and Dallas Lauderdale was called for an intentional foul (on a high elbow to the neck of Davide Curletti). Curletti made 1 of 2 free throws and on the ensuing possession, JerShon Cobb sank a 3-pointer. That cut the OSU lead to 51-46 with 7:14 left. Seemed like a total meltdown, both by Lauderdale and the Buckeye defense.
The biggest mystery in Ohio sports: What's wrong with the Ohio State women? No. 23 OSU (13-8, 4-5) lost to Penn State 80-71 Sunday. It's not what I expected from Jantel Lavender, Samantha Prahalis and company. Wonder if coach Jim Foster is feeling the heat?
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