Tiger Woods has had his share of ups and downs this year. (Steve Helber / Associated…)
In theatrical parlance, it's called the Greek chorus. And in the tale of two extremes that has defined Tiger Woods' season, the voices from the periphery at times have been nearly as entertaining as the drama they accompany.
Item: Woods is back to his winning ways — three times, in fact, more than anyone else on the PGA Tour. He recently passed Jack Nicklaus for No. 2 on the all-time victories list. (Voices: He's back!)
Then again, Woods has an equal number of starts in which he didn't finish 72 holes — two missed cuts and an injury flare-up. (No, he's not!)
It has made for a lot of noise, though as golf's best cross the Atlantic for next week's British Open, not a lot of resolution.
"If he's playing well, he's better than everybody else in the field," ESPN analyst Curtis Strange said. "If he's not, he's average. It just depends on which Tiger shows up. And we of late have seen two different Tigers."
Woods certainly has given both sides enough ammunition.
The winner of 14 majors led after two rounds of the U.S. Open, with a 36-hole display of solid ball-striking not seen from him in years. (He's back!) Then he shot 75-73 on the weekend. (No, he's not!)
In his next start, Woods outdueled a dogged Bo Van Pelt down the stretch to win the AT&T National. (He's back, dang it!) Six days later, he missed the Greenbrier Classic cut against a less-than-stellar field. (Are you joking? He's not!)
And so it goes.
"I guess lately we don't know what to expect from him," said Steve Stricker, Woods' frequent Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup partner. "And when he wins, we're all eager to look ahead and think that he's going to be back to where he was."
As he has grown comfortable with instructor Sean Foley's swing changes, Woods has shown he can get there at times. His three victories all struck themes golf fans had become accustomed to seeing.
A relentless, almost mistake-free weekend at the Arnold Palmer Invitational left his nearest pursuers eating dust. At the Memorial, a brilliant chip-in shook the ground with roars and kick-started a closing charge. At the AT&T National, Van Pelt blinked first.
But Woods also hasn't left the question marks of recent seasons completely behind. Only once before had he missed more than one cut in a season. Nor did he seem all that chafed when it occurred.
"It happens, you know?" Woods said before exiting the Greenbrier. "I've been [on tour] for a long time, and I've missed nine cuts."
Truth be told, Woods got caught on the wrong side of a low cut. Playing at the famed West Virginia resort for the first time, his distance control wasn't sharp in the mountain air.
On the other hand, critics might argue that the "old" Woods would have adjusted in time.
"He actually played really well," said U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, who blitzed Woods by six shots both days while they were paired together. "He just had some distance-control problems, and it wasn't an issue" at Congressional in the AT&T National.
"I think he'll contend in most of the tournaments he plays the rest of this year. His game looks good to me."
Royal Lytham & St. Annes, with its 205 bunkers and typically windy conditions, doesn't leave a lot of room for error. It also has the Open's most exclusive list of winners — all nine are either in the Hall of Fame or were ranked No. 1 in the world. David Duval won the last time the Open was played there, in 2001. Woods tied for 25th.
Woods has shown he can keep his ball out of Open bunkers, avoiding all of them at St. Andrews in his 2000 triumph and using an array of shorter clubs to skirt trouble at Hoylake in 2006.
"If Tiger's instincts are his new swing and he has ownership of his new swing, then his instincts are going to be an advantage," ESPN's Paul Azinger said. "If his instincts are to revert back, he'll be all over the place."
Either way, the Greek chorus is warming up.