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Out of the Rough: Huge week for Tiger

Rory McIlroy heeded my advice, showed huge moxie and became the No. 1 player in the world.

But this past weekend's action may have been more a huge step in the repair job known as Tiger Woods.

The very fact Woods played the Honda Classic was positive swing forward.

Since the accident, pundits clamored that Woods should play more events. In the last six months, Woods has teed it up at the Frys.com Open, Pebble Beach and the Honda.

Frys was his first Silly Season event ever.

Pebble bored him with the tricky greens and, due respect, the prospect of playing behind Kenny G and Craig T. Nelson didn't tickle his fancy.

The Honda Classic got on his docket after he moved to nearby Jupiter. That would be Florida, not the planet, but Woods supported his local tournament and that's another sign Woods is starting to care more about his role in the world of golf.

This Honda week didn't start off swimmingly.

Woods got in a rather ugly tete-a-tete with Alex Miceli of Golf Week, who dared bring up the released excerpt from Hank Haney's book, "The Big Miss." In the shared portion, Haney's big reveal was that he thought Tiger might leave golf to become a Navy SEAL.

This is ludicrous and unrealistic fantasy, rivaled only if I said I was going to join the U.S. Olympic team in something other than cake eating. However, this isn't exactly the juicy bomb people thought Haney would drop.

That didn't stop Woods from saying he already commented on the book, then telling Miceli, "You're a beauty, you know that?" Compliment notwithstanding, Woods' stubborn attitude toward this book is to be expected, but it's the wrong move.

First, the more awkward encounters Woods has, book sales increase. Woods has looked overly defensive from the jump on this book and being ignorant and rude to reporters who ask fair questions shows he's not totally where he should be in the public eye.

If a reporter has the temerity to ask a question about Woods' children, or something private in that vein, then Woods ought to pounce on him or her like a rabid animal.

This is about a relevant bit of news in which Woods is the primary character. Woods said earlier in the interview before the Honda Classic he "already talked about it," but Miceli followed up and Woods got angry.

Miceli was doing his job, but clearly the Haney book is a dead end. Now, if some enterprising journalist asks about it, he or she will be doing it knowing a reaction might be forthcoming and that will stink of someone trying to get his or her name into a story.

That's a no-no for journalists.

Once the tournament began, Woods played adequately. He still struggled with putts, but the bigger problem seemed, and has for a while, that he's just not hitting the ball close anymore.

It's what happened after the rounds that made me think Woods was turning a page. Golf Channel and NBC both caught Woods, after his rounds, signing autographs.

It may seem so elementary, but the best way to get back into the good graces of the fans is to physically interact with them. This isn't to say Woods hasn't signed prior to this weekend, but being seen putting his name on some kid's hat is a great sign.

Of course, there was also a lot of positives in his play.

Down nine strokes to the guy who was about to become No. 1 in the world, Woods made the turn in four-under thanks to an eagle and two birdies. He birdied 11, then 17 and suddenly found himself three back.

Vintage Woods appeared on the 18th fairway. He knocked his second to eight feet at the par-five 18th, twirled the club in the old magic way and strutted to the green.

He sank the putt, got within one, then lost by two.

This was a significant stride forward for Woods. He played a demanding course bogey-free and threw a legitimate scare at McIlroy. Sunday performances have been shaky for Woods in the post-scandal era and his final round at the Honda showed he can still be a factor against the game's best.

Winning, especially in a thriller late, is still the barometer for when Woods' comeback becomes complete.

(I'm discounting that nonsensical, tiny-fielded, unofficial Chevron World Challenge as any type of milestone.)

This week was the largest sign yet that Woods, still with some work to do, is making huge leaps forward, both on and off the course.

RANDOM THOUGHTS

- McIlroy is clearly the best player in the world, and showed a ton. All the way back or not, Woods' name on the leaderboard, getting within one, had to jolt the 22-year-old, but McIlroy saved three pars down the stretch and immediately answered Woods' eagle at 18 with a birdie at 13. That kind of performance, unlike the previous weekend's pathetic effort in the final of the WGC-Adventure Match Play Championship, is what No. 1 players do.

- McIlroy then celebrated his new position in golf by doing what most would do - he followed his equally famous girlfriend to New York (Caroline Wozniacki) and participated in a charity tennis match. I'd have had a few beers, but to each his own.

- All eligible players for this week's WGC-Cadillac Championship entered the field. This is going to be fun seeing if McIlroy stays strong, same for Woods. Does Phil Mickelson start his run to The Masters? Can Luke Donald or Lee Westwood reclaim No. 1? It should be fun.

- Movie moment - Know what the best part of Christian Bale as Batman is? It's that he altered his voice as Batman. No one else did that. If I was Batman, and I'd love to be, but I just don't have the resources, I wouldn't want to speak like Jim Brighters. My friends and family would figure out my identity. That's why Bale did it. He didn't want his Batman to sound like Bruce Wayne. Yes, I watched "The Dark Knight" for the 3,000th time this past weekend.