About Jordan Spieth's wobbly start and an eye-popping Tiger stat

Jordan Spieth is coming off his 18th missed cut as a pro but returns to Pebble Beach as the defending champion. Eric Risberg/AP Photo

It is way too early to be concerned about Jordan Spieth, but since people expect so much of him, a missed cut or a mini poor stretch elicits quick fears that something might be wrong.

For now, it is likely as simple as this: Spieth contracted mononucleosis in December, and the aftermath set him back -- both in energy and preparation.

So a tie for ninth at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, followed by a tie for 18th at the Sony Open before last week's missed cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open should be viewed within some context.

"I haven't been playing very well,'' Spieth told USA Today after missing the cut in Scottsdale, Arizona. "I didn't drive the ball very well, and I didn't putt well. I've just been working on some things that take time, unfortunately, in tournament rounds.''

Spieth, who defends his title at this week's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, has played just five times going back to the Tour Championship in September. Following the Presidents Cup, the plan was to take a lengthy break and prepare for 2018. He returned at the Australian Open, where he finished eighth, and then tied for third at the Hero World Challenge in early December.

Mono hit a few days later, and after several days in bed, Spieth saw the illness linger for a few weeks leading up to his first tournament of 2018.

"I just need more reps,'' said Spieth, who will also play next week's Genesis Open and is expected to play the WGC-Mexico Championship two weeks after that. "At the beginning of the year, I thought I had a lot of work to do to get ready for Augusta, to get my game to an 'A' level for the Masters. Some years my 'A' game is already there at the start of the year.

"But because of all the time I took off -- all the time I was sick in bed and the other times I was actually taking time off -- I've started way behind.''

Spieth has time to catch up. The next two weeks provide good tests at places where he's had success. If he skips the three Florida events -- which Spieth did a year ago -- he would still have five tournaments, including two in Texas, before the Masters to find his form.

"It's still frustrating when I'm out there, but I'm giving myself some leeway. I'm starting to see what the problem areas are in tournament play and where I'll put all the time and effort to get [my game] right,'' he said.

An underrated Tiger stat

When Spieth missed the cut at TPC Scottsdale, it was the first time he did so going back to consecutive cuts at the Players and Byron Nelson in May. Now 24 and into his sixth year on the PGA Tour, Spieth has missed 18 cuts as a pro, an average of about three a year, which is pretty standard for an elite player.

And it again underscores how incredible Tiger Woods' record is just in this area, one that is often overlooked among his victory totals.

Two weeks ago, Woods flirted with the 36-hole cut at the Farmers Insurance Open, eventually making it on the number by birdieing his final hole of the second round. That kept the number of missed cuts for his career on the PGA Tour at 16. He's also missed one cut on the European Tour for a total of 17 missed cuts worldwide as a pro -- or at age 42, one fewer than Spieth.

This is not to pick on Spieth or any of today's top players. Missing cuts is part of the game. Players do not have it every week. Justin Thomas has missed 23 cuts as a pro. Dustin Johnson has missed 36 -- including 11 in 2011. Phil Mickelson, whose pro career began four years before Woods', has missed 82 as a pro. It happens to the best.

But it does speak to an aspect of Woods' career that is not about winning. And of those 16 missed cuts on the PGA Tour, seven have come after the first of his four back surgeries in 2014.

At Pebble Beach ...

The annual three-course pro-am event has attracted another strong field, including the top 3 in the world: Johnson, Jon Rahm and Spieth, the defending champion. It is the first time the tournament has attracted the top 3 in the world since 1999 -- when it was Woods, David Duval and Mark O'Meara. Rory McIlroy is making his PGA Tour debut after two strong finishes in the Middle East and is playing the tournament for the first time. (He did play the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble, where he missed the cut.) His father, Gerry, will be his pro-am partner. Mickelson is making his 22nd tournament appearance and seeking his fifth victory. And Adam Scott is making his 2018 debut.

... and Down Under

For the second year, the European Tour has brought a unique format to Australia for the Perth Super 6.

The tournament starts innocently enough, with 156 players who compete at stroke play over the first 54 holes. Then things get interesting and highly unusual. After the field is cut through 36 holes, it is then cut again to the top 24 players through three rounds.

The top 8 receive a bye into the second round of match play, which consists of five rounds of 6-hole matches to determine a winner. Any ties are broken with a 90-yard shootout hole. It's different -- and something to keep an eye on.

Adam Scott's plight

The Aussie returns to competitive golf having fallen to No. 43 in the world and with a projected drop to No. 49. He has plenty of time to improve this ranking, but it's notable that Scott is not yet exempt for the U.S. Open. His five-year exemption for winning the 2013 Masters expired last year.

Scott still can qualify via the FedEx Cup rankings as of this spring (top 10) or more likely by moving among the top 60 in the world at two points in the weeks leading up to the U.S. Open, including the Sunday prior.