Rude: Tiger finds lift at turn in Open
GULLANE, Scotland – The first hole is always too early to hit a provisional ball off the tee and then take an unplayable-lie penalty. Particularly at the Open Championship, which, unlike in some recreational Nassau matches stateside, disallows breakfast balls.
But there was tournament favorite Tiger Woods, the winner of 14 major championships, doing just that. Hook in the hay close to an out-of-bounds stone wall. Provisional hook also in the high weeds. Then the unplayable off the original and his third shot into a bunker 70 feet from the pin.
So here we enter the head of a champion and see mind games.
PHOTOS: Open Championship, Tiger Woods
A look at Tiger Woods at the 2013 Open Championship at Muirfield.
“It was amazing when I got over that tee shot,” Woods said. “I was like, ‘If I hammer it, this 3-wood is in that bunker. So maybe I should take something off it. Maybe I should hit 5-wood.’ Hence I hit a flip hook left, and there she goes.”
But he would get up and down from that sand right of the green en route to what is known in the business as a good bogey. And as out of sorts as he initially seemed, Woods not only would survive but thrive on the sunbaked confines of Muirfield.
He would make another remarkable bogey at the sixth, saving from 12 feet after mis-hitting his first bump-and-run chip down a left slope to a place 50 feet from the hole. Then, as conditions became yet firmer and faster, he would make four birdies during a back-nine 32, a brilliant feat fueled by dialed-in iron shots and excellent putting.
All that added up to a 2-under-par 69 opener – good for a tie for ninth place, three shots off the lead – and a delighted Woods.
“I’m very pleased to shoot anything even par or better,” he said, smiling.
Woods rebounded on a day when unseasonably warm temperatures reached the 80s, leading one photographer to groan that it was a “scorcher,” and when a few players moaned about the turf being too firm and fast. It was also a day in which various usages of “grind” were in vogue – particularly when it came to Woods’ round.
“Tiger played phenomenally well for his 2-under,” playing competitor Graeme McDowell said after his own 75. “He really ground it out well, did what he does best.”
Woods certainly wasn’t dissenting. He went from limiting the damage on the first six and then into a mode we’ve often seen from him the past couple of decades: That of a predator. When he birdied three of the first four holes on the back, he clearly was on the prowl.
“It was more of a grind than one of those pro-ams, when it’s happy-go-lucky and you’re talking to your playing partner all day,” Woods said. “There wasn’t a lot of talking out there today, because we’re trying to grind it out.”
He did so with a short game that was better than he had demonstrated in his last two tournaments, poor finishes at the Memorial and U.S. Open. He showed no signs of rust and said his left elbow, which has kept him sidelined since the Open, felt fine.
Besides the first, Woods saved par after hitting a 50-foot bunker blast at the third. He made his first birdie at the short fourth, holing a downhill 12-footer, and then went on his incoming roll. He made birdie putts of 10 and 7 feet, respectively, at Nos. 10-11, made a par save at 12 after blasting to 5 feet while on his left knee, and sank a downhill 30-footer at 13.
His only lapse was at the 14th. Facing a 60-footer, he rapped his putt over the green, some 30 feet from the cup. But he would counter that bogey with a two-putt birdie at the par-5 17th.
“Some of the putts were so quick,” he said. “I mean, I putted the ball off the green today. And it really wasn’t that bad of a putt. Anything that goes 4 feet by, it’s gone. It was tough.”
Woods hit no drivers while handling Muirfield. His performance was reminiscent of his play at Royal Liverpool in 2006, when he won the Open despite hitting but one driver all week.
“It’s about as fast as Hoylake was,” Woods said. “But there’s knee-high rough here. Plus, this course changes directions a lot. So you have to hit a lot of different shaped shots.”
He had no problem with that, nor the early stumble, pressure or odd heat. Among others, the latter he’s used to.
“I wouldn’t quite say Florida,” he cracked regarding the temperatures, “but I’m sure there’s a lot of red people out there.”