In 2008, there was talk that Tiger Woods would never win again.

But after capturing the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines on a broken leg and torn ACL -- and sitting out the rest of the year -- Woods won six times in 2009.

After the news of his scandal late that year and assorted injuries in 2010, there was talk he might never play again -- and certainly never win again.

Woods won three times in 2012 and five times in 2013, becoming PGA Tour Player of the Year for the 11th time.

But he played only 18 tournaments in 2014-15, none in 2016 and once last year, undergoing back surgery in 2014 and twice in 2015. But those were temporary fixes. He had spinal fusion last April.

He would never play again, let alone win, is what we heard from so many golf experts.

Nine months later, he was digging balls out of the rough at Torrey Pines over the weekend and swinging as violently as ever.

No one with a bad back -- or back pain -- could possibly go at a 5-iron with that speed and ferocity.

That's the biggest take-away from Woods' first official PGA Tour event in which he played four days since August 2015.

Yes, he played all four days. In the previous four years, he played four straight days in a Tour event eight times.

Seriously, eight full events in four seasons of golf.

But on a tough golf course with tight fairways and U.S. Open rough, Woods made the cut and finished tied for 23rd at 3-under, 7 shots off the lead. There was a point Sunday when he was only 5 back.

That's coming off two rounds of PGA Tour golf in 2017 and zero in 2016. Thirty-six holes in two years.

And he made the cut -- which isn't even the most ridiculous part.

Woods hit 17 fairways all week (30 percent), which was 77th in the field, and 42 greens (58 percent), which was 55th.

That is shockingly bad.

So how does someone make the cut and finish under par on this course with that rough, hitting so few fairways and greens?

Simple. His short game was brilliant. Woods was 16th in strokes-gained putting and 23rd in scrambling.

It's absurd because the short game is the last thing that should return. It's all about reps and feel and hands.

The fact that it's not a problem bodes very well for Woods because his length and club speed were world class at Torrey Pines. His 358-yard drive on No. 1 Sunday, his 10th hole, was his longest in 940 days on the PGA Tour, on a fairway that traditionally has been impossible for him to hit.

It's all about sequence now. Having changed his swing for the umpteenth time, Woods must find his long-club rhythm, which again is a matter of reps.

He sometimes gets caught in between methods, which leads to the dreaded double-cross. Once he can rely on his soft cut with the driver and fairway metal, he will be seriously dangerous again.

Woods fans -- and Woods himself -- want that to happen immediately. It's more likely that he suffers for a while as he tries to stay mentally in his 2018 swing even though his body wants to attempt the three other versions it remembers from the last eight years.

When he can start hitting short grass consistently with his big clubs, his proximity will improve and then it will get fun again.

He averaged 30 putts a round, good for 16th best in the tournament, all while getting only 12 looks in four days from inside 15 feet for bird.

So what's it all mean?

He was able to get out of rough he hasn't played in for two years, off tight lies that are very different from where he plays in the Florida and on Poa annua greens that might as well be a gravel pit when you normally play in the Southeast.

And he was still able to get up and down at a ridiculous rate.

Now, he just needs to play. If he can stay healthy, at 42 he could have another productive decade on Tour.

But he has to stay healthy, and that's the scary part.

You wouldn't be alone if you held your breath every time he went down into a 4-inch rough to gouge out a vicious approach.

While he says he's far past concern, after four back surgeries in three years no one would blame Tiger Woods if he did the very same thing.

brozner@dailyherald.com

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