- Associated Press - Saturday, March 1, 2014

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) - Tiger Woods says it’s way too early to hit the panic button. Then again, it’s too early by his standards to be getting up on a Saturday morning to play a PGA Tour event.

But at least he’s still playing.

Already off to the slowest start of his career, Woods had to scramble on the back nine just to make the cut in the Honda Classic. Woods hit only two greens over his final nine holes. His lone birdie on the back nine was on the 13th hole, when he missed the green with a wedge and then chipped in for birdie. His par on the final hole gave him a 1-under 69 - the first time in six rounds he had broken par at PGA National - and left him 11 shots behind Rory McIlroy.

Woods tees off at 7:38 a.m. Saturday. He should be done before the leaders even show up at the course to eat lunch.

“It’s a grind. There’s no doubt about it,” Woods said.

Golf looks anything but that to McIlroy, the 24-year-old from Northern Ireland who has yet to play a 72-hole tournament this season when he didn’t have a chance going into the weekend. McIlroy ran off six birdies in a 10-hole stretch for a 4-under 66.

He was at 11-under 129, one shot ahead of Brendon de Jonge, who had a 64.

Woods began his year at Torrey Pines, where he his eight pro victories included a U.S. Open, and he didn’t make it to Sunday. He failed to make the 54-hole cut (which kicks in when more than 78 players make the cut) and tied for 80th.

Then it was off to Dubai, where he had won twice. He was never a factor and tied for 41st, his worst showing in seven appearances.

Anything wrong?

“It’s only three events,” Woods said, hiding his annoyance at the question. “So not that many rounds into it.”

Woods has played nine rounds of competition in the last three months. He has broken 70 only twice - a 68 in the first round of Dubai and a 69 on Friday at the Honda Classic. Until this year, he had never started without at least one finish in the top 20.

Woods wasn’t ready to rule out a turnaround even this week.

“I would like to obviously hit it better than I have been, and especially today. I didn’t hit it very good today,” he said. “But again, I fought out a number, which is always a good thing. Somehow would like to put together a good weekend. We’re all bunched in there. Anything can happen this weekend.”

Being 11 shots behind in a 79-man field typically does not constitute one of those “anything can happen” weekends, though stranger things have occurred. Regardless, he looks to be miles away from the real action at the Honda Classic.

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