Calculating Tiger's next tournament

To call Tiger Woods' statement Wednesday a leave of absence is too strong, especially when he left open the possibility that he would return to competitive golf in two weeks at the Honda Classic.

You can't call it a leave if you are not going to skip a tournament you were planning on playing in the beginning.

What's more important is that Woods acknowledged he has some serious issues with his game, needs to pay attention to them and is better off doing that away from the glare of public scrutiny.

"My play, and my scores, are not acceptable for tournament golf," Woods said on his website.

And that was fairly clear over the past two weeks, when he showed up in Phoenix optimistic about 2015 but just nine days later had completed only 47 holes, shot his highest score as a pro and had another unseemly injury withdrawal.

Not to mention all the horrendous short-game woes that left average golfers gasping in disbelief.

"He needs time to work on his game but not in a public setting," said Woods' agent, Mark Steinberg, in a phone interview Wednesday night. "He's going to get out to the Medalist [his home course near his Jupiter, Florida, home) and work on his own. He's going to get after it and when he feels he's ready to go, he'll come back.

"He is not pleased with his game and you all saw it. He is going to work on every single facet.''

And that is exactly what Woods needs to do.

Last week, in the aftermath of Woods' third WD in his past nine tournaments, his old coach, Hank Haney, questioned why Woods was putting himself through the agony in tournaments when his game was nowhere near ready.

"He's not hitting the ball well enough to compete," Haney said. "When you're playing in a tournament and hitting it terrible, the tournament reps mean nothing. What he needs, possibly, is to get into contention. He doesn't need a pressure putt on the 36th hole to make the cut.

"But you can't get into contention hitting the ball like that. If he hits the ball better, if he is truly hitting it better, then okay. This is Tiger Woods after all.''

Although Woods is not taking any advice from Haney these days, he does appear to be following a formula his old coach would endorse.

Haney suggested Woods needs to get away from tournament golf, but he needs to play golf on the course, not stand on the driving range all day.

"When I was with Tiger, he had times where he'd go out and sometimes play 54 holes in a day,'' said Haney, who coached Woods from 2005-10 with 31 PGA Tour victories, including six majors, in that span. "He'd be out there playing golf. He'd play and play and play. And he'd keep going around and around. Last year before Torrey Pines, he admitted he played nine holes of golf.

"Forget about tournaments, he has not played golf. If you counted the amount of rounds he's played in the last 12 months ... 18 holes, not tournaments. Just golf. What do you think that total is? Next to nothing.''

That, of course, is due to the back injuries that have thwarted Woods for most of the past 12 months, if not longer.

Steinberg said there was "relief'' in the Woods camp when it was revealed that the latest back trouble was not related to surgery he had in March of last year. "He got treatment immediately and over the weekend when he got home, and it alleviated the discomfort quite a bit,'' said Steinberg, who also added Woods has been able to do some light chipping and putting.

Woods left open the possibility that he would play the Honda Classic in two weeks, but that would appear a bit premature. Steinberg suggested Woods would get back to work in earnest next week, which means he'd have five days to find his game before entering? Seems unlikely.

Perhaps Woods was simply being deferential to his new hometown event at PGA National, but it is not an easy track, certainly not a place to build confidence. None of the Florida venues are, really, all ranking among the top 17 most difficult -- including majors and WGC events -- on the PGA Tour in 2013-14.

If Woods skips Honda, he won't be eligible for the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral the following week, which would mean three full weeks of working on his game.

Would he perhaps enter the Valspar Championship near Tampa the following week? Possibly, although he's never played the tournament. More likely is a date at the Arnold Palmer Invitational (or he could play both), which begins March 19. Woods has won that tournament seven times and is quite familiar with the Bay Hill layout.

That gives him four full weeks away from tournament play.

Is that enough time? Even Woods can't know that at this point. But it allows him a break from the glare, and presents the goal of trying to be competitive when the Masters rolls around just eight weeks from now.

But given what Woods has been through, and the lack of form he has shown, talking about major championships and being competitive seems foolish.

First things first: Woods needs to find his game. And he'll do it away from the bright lights and skeptical eyes.