When even Tiger Woods's arch-critic is declaring that there are many positives to take from the 14-time major-winner's fifth-worst performance in his 21-year career, then it is obvious how much golf has invested in the successful return of its superstar.

Yet, in fairness to Brandel Chamblee, the former PGA Tour winner turned Golf Channel analyst, he was saying only what many were thinking, after Woods missed the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Granted, the 41-year-old had previously won at Torrey Pines eight times and just a few years ago, it would be impossible to think of a 76-72 return in San Diego as anything other than a disaster.

Yet that only shows the depths from where Woods is attempting to launch his comeback, after almost 18 months on the side-lines due to multiple back operations.

Afterwards, Woods spoke of "being rusty" and of "making dumb mistakes", and intimated that his mind is on fixing the flaws in time for Augusta in April.

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The forthcoming tournaments will all be about continuing the day-to-day progress he showed in California, starting with the Dubai Desert Classic on Thursday.

The improvements effected by Woods in just 24 hours were written on the stats sheets. He hit only four of 14 fairways on the South Course, but on the North Course, missed only four.

Chamblee, an erudite character who has repeatedly slated Woods for committing "self-mutilation" with his swing, was uncharacteristically impressed.

"On Thursday, his swing was under plane and he was going to miss it right and right time and time again. Friday, he did a much a better job of getting his hands in front of him on the way down.

"Was it as good as Tiger Woods at his best? No, nowhere near.

"But we are holding him to the greatest standard of golf we've ever seen. But there's a lot of good news to take to Dubai."

Of course, the most important source for optimism is his health. Woods admitted beforehand that there were fears how his spine would hold up to four tournaments in five weeks, but in the first of these, there were seemingly no problems.

"Tiger looked great physically, didn't grab his back once, which was great news," Chamblee said.

Woods appeared and sounded more content than ever before, after missing the cut (this was his 16th time) and claimed that his sole fear was the gruelling, first-class trip to the United Arab Emirates.

"My only concern is I've got a long flight," Woods said. "How is my body going to handle the flight? It's 17 hours, but it's all good."

The Desert Classic organisers will be glad to hear it. A fortnight ago, Abu Dhabi, the neighbouring Emirate, lost its main draw, Rory McIlroy, and despite being 663rd in the world, there is no doubt that Woods fills that billing.

The interest in this supposedly fallen icon remains astounding. In the US, the Farmers Insurance Open attracted more TV viewers for its first round than any other non-major since the 2015 Players Championship, in which Woods also played.

And as soon as it was announced that Woods would play in a regular European Tour event for the first time in three years, the ticket sales increased by 50%. For the first time in its 28-year history, the hospitality boxes have sold out for the final day. They can only pray that Woods, a two-time champion of the Desert Class, makes that cut, although, regardless, there can be no argument that he still pulls them in.

Woods does not cost as much as he used to, either.

It is understood that the appearance fee is a little under $US1.5 million ($NZ2 million), less than half what he once commanded for overseas excursions.

If the general sense of positivity is not misplaced, that could be seen as a huge bargain in seven days' time.