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Tiger Woods ‘delusional’ to believe he’s close to regaining world-class form

At least, that's what Paul Azinger believes.

Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

As he works through whatever the hell he is working through on his fourth swing overhaul, Tiger Woods' mantra is that he’s "close" to regaining the form that brought him to the top of the game of golf. With monologues about a "baseline shift" and "feels," Woods sounds like a guy trying to convince himself that he really is just on the verge of lapping the field, the way he did in his glory days.

The reality is that the former world No. 1 is on the cusp of falling out of the top 250 (he entered the week ranked 241) in the wake of some truly awful golf in a season of "worsts ever," that include three scores in the 80s. But, hey, if carding his highest round in a British Open at St. Andrews as a pro is "close," then we all may want a bit of what Woods is smoking.

"He keeps saying he’s close, but he may be delusional." ESPN’s Paul Azinger said after Woods shot a 4-over 76 in the opening round of his bid for a fourth Claret Jug.

Indeed, Woods had a plethora of problems on Thursday, that began with a tee shot on the first hole that was less than crisp, and a fatter approach that landed in the burn fronting the green.

That bogey on a hole, that many in the field had to work hard not to birdie, on an ideal day for scoring, was just the beginning of what has become the usual struggle for Woods. Especially in the wake of last year’s back injury, and this season’s ball-striking woes.

Certainly, there was reason for Woods’ optimism heading into this week after his bogey-free final round at Old White TPC -- his first since August 2013. He also has good memories and the experience of winning his 2000 and 2005 titles on the Old Course.

But one had to believe Azinger was on to something when Woods went from saying during his Tuesday press conference that he was "hitting the ball much, much more solid" at Greenbrier, to turning things around so dramatically that he "had a chance to win the Masters this year."

Throw in the whopper about how another swing change he made at the Memorial -- where he carded a career-high 85 in the third round and finished last -- "worked out perfectly," and Azinger's description was not far off course. If memory serves, Woods was 10 shots back of Jordan Spieth coming into the Masters on Sunday, during which he could not find the fairway, tweaked his wrist and finished in a share of 17th.

Though Woods may have been the only one convinced that a T32 at the Greenbrier Classic meant he would be in contention on a course that yielded two of his three British Open wins, Woods' performance on Thursday was a stunning throwback to Chambers Bay and earlier.

He followed his opening 80 at the U.S. Open with a career-worst 76 on Thursday on the Old Course. With no control over his long or short clubs on Thursday, Woods put himself in a position to miss his second straight cut in a major, and the third in his last four major championships starts.

"Golf is simple, it’s just not easy," said Azinger as ESPN recapped Woods’ 4-over on the gettable front nine. "You have to drive it, wedge it and putt it, and Tiger’s doing none of the three well."

Stats bore Azinger out.

Certainly, the struggling superstar was under no illusions about Thursday’s performance.

"I made so many mistakes. I just didn't play well," a clearly discouraged Woods told reporters after a round that included five bogeys and one birdie -- the bird finally coming on the par-5 14th hole.

Woods, who has to find some reason to tee it up again on Friday, sounded a tad fanciful when he launched into his strategy for playing himself out of the floor right above the basement and into the penthouse.

"Hopefully the conditions will be tough tomorrow and I can put together a good round and we'll move up the board progressively," he said.

Woods, who is likely to miss consecutive cuts in the majors for the first time as a pro, must not remember that third-round 81 at the British in 2002, when similar weather to what he is expected to face on Friday blew away his chance for the calendar grand slam.

With the forecast for the afternoon showing more rain and heavy winds up to 40 mph, Woods is scheduled to join his Chambers Bay and St. Andrews opening-rounds playing competitors Jason Day (66) and Louis Oosthuizen (67) at 5:10 p.m. local time. A show of hands of anyone? Other than the man himself, is anyone taking Woods to make a move on Dustin Johnson (65), Jordan Spieth (67) and the other young guns on a soggy, wind-blown track on Friday.

★★★

SB Nation video archives: Urban golfing with a U.S. Open champion (2012)