Improved Tiger seeks consistency

SAN MARTIN, Calif. -- It is easy to take shots at Tiger Woods, and many routinely do, usually of the verbal variety. The scandal that rocked his personal and professional lives continues to haunt him, especially as he struggles to regain his form on the golf course.

So it was Sunday that Woods finished well out of contention, but still garnered plenty of attention.

It wasn't about his caddie or his swing or his knee or his Achilles.

Nope, this was about a hot dog, and we're not taking about Steve Williams.

A real, $5 hot dog purchased on the grounds at CordeValle Golf Club was hurled in the general direction of Woods as he was about to putt on the seventh green during the final round of the Frys.com Open.

The commotion and the unidentified spectator rushing out of the gallery toward the green were more scary than what flew out of his hand, and Woods barely flinched. He made light of it afterward, suggesting that it was simply someone who wanted a piece of the limelight and expected to be arrested.

"I could hear the security behind me,'' he said. "I was still bent over my putt, and I when I looked up [the hot dog] was already in the air. The bun was kind of disintegrating there.''

The person never got closer than 40 feet to Woods, and was quickly handcuffed and escorted off the property. He was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor, according to a Santa Clara County police sergeant.

Understandably, the jokes are flying -- and at a higher and longer trajectory than the hot dog itself.

The overall situation, however, does remind us how vulnerable golfers can be, despite there being no threat to Woods in this instance. Security acted immediately, the spectator was in handcuffs within minutes, and about 30 seconds later, Woods was attempting his birdie putt.

"I really wanted to bury that putt,'' Woods said.

He didn't, and he must be wondering what is going to happen next.

This has clearly been the most disappointing on-course year of Woods' career. He missed two major championships, failed to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs and slipped out of the top 50 in the world rankings for the first time in 15 years.

The year that began with promise after a solid end to a tumultuous 2010 never got on track. He tied for fourth at the Masters, but was injured badly enough to miss most of the next four months. Any momentum gained was gone.

Along the way, he broke up with his long-time caddie, Williams -- who then trashed him for the way he said it was handled after winning a tournament on Adam Scott's bag.

Woods tied for 37th at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, shot 10 over and missed the cut at the PGA Championship, and failed to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs -- which he had won twice in its first four years. Despite all that, Fred Couples picked him for his U.S. Presidents Cup team.

That is among the reasons he was here at the Frys.com Open in Northern California. It was a bit surreal to think that as Woods was finishing his round Sunday on the ninth hole -- because of a two-tee start that meant Woods began on No. 10 -- tournament leader at the time, Briny Baird, was in the middle of his round right in front of him, trying for his first victory in 348 career PGA Tour starts.

Woods shot his third-straight 68 on Sunday, and while there were plenty of positives, the bottom-line number is he tied for 30th and was 10 strokes back of playoff contestants Baird and Bryce Molder -- both trying for their first victory while Woods remains stuck on 71 PGA Tour triumphs. Molder eventually triumphed on the sixth playoff hole.

"I got better every day,'' Woods said. "Unfortunately a couple of times where I kind of didn't get the momentum going when I had a couple of chances to make putts or I hit a bad shot. … I haven't played much. That comes with competitive flow, understanding the situations and feels, and game time is a little bit different. I really haven't played a whole lot since the Masters.''

Woods played Sunday with a couple of frequent practice-round buddies, Rod Pampling and Arjun Atwal, who is at a member at Iselworth near Orlando, Woods' former home.

Atwal described Woods' misses as "not off the map anymore'' and said, "He's close. I think it's just a matter of playing a little bit more. He looked so good those first seven holes.''

Woods started on No. 10 and birdied three of his first six holes and shot 4-under-par 32 for nine holes. For a few moments, he was tied for ninth. Then he struggled on the back nine, bogeying two holes and adding just one more birdie at the ninth hole.

"I think he's getting very close,'' Pampling said. "The biggest thing I saw today is that he's mentally back into it. That's where I think the last few events he's played he just hasn't looked like he's been into it. But today, especially early on, he was really focused in there.

"He's hitting some big drives again. That's when you know he's playing good, when he's not hitting it hard but that thing's just out there. He hit some bombs out there today. I think he looks good with the swing. But to me, the more important thing is that I'm seeing that mentally he's into it again.''

For the third straight day, Woods hit 14 of 18 greens. He still misses too many fairways, but he seemed to find something with his putting after a poor first round. Still, the scoring average Sunday was 69.21, so Wood was not much better than that.

Now what? Woods continues to say that playing more will help, but he is not adding either of the two remaining Fall Series events, this week's McGladrey Classic nor the Children's Miracle Network Classic at Disney World -- a tournament he has won twice.

Only once this year has he played in consecutive weeks, and that came in August at the Bridgestone and PGA Championship, tournaments for which he had very little time to prepare.

Until he gets into a competitive flow of tournaments, it is hard to judge him, good or bad, from just one week. Finishing 30th against a weak field isn't very good, but a top-five finish would not have necessarily suggested he's got all his problems solved, either.

Next up is a trip to Asia for a series of exhibitions the week prior to the Australian Open next month. That will be followed by the Presidents Cup, and all the drama that surrounds his controversial pick to the team.

Sunday's spectator antics only contributed to the strangeness of it all.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.