CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Moments after shooting a bogey-free 7-under 65 on Thursday morning to take the first-round lead at the Quail Hollow Championship, Tiger Woods was planning his afternoon practice session.
For the first time since the 2007 British Open, Woods didn’t have to reign in his workaholic drive because of his sore left knee.
“It’s exciting to be able to go out and practice again and not have to worry about it,” said Woods, 10 months removed from knee surgery. “Before I didn’t do it because I didn’t know how it would react for the next day. I’d probably do more harm than good by going out and practicing.”
One session at the Masters was the first time in nearly two years Woods practiced after a round. Woods hit balls after his pro-am round Wednesday, too.
Woods also is getting results after spending hours on his short game while he couldn’t do much else following the surgery. Before his putter came alive on his second nine Thursday, Woods saved par by getting up and down with a couple of excellent chip shots.
“I hit a lot of pitch shots and chip shots. That’s all I could do for a long time,” Woods said. “My overall short game is certainly more refined than it has been. … I had forgotten a few of my shots and I was able to dig those things up and dust them off and practice them again.”
Now Woods said he no longer worries about how his knee will hold up while hitting balls out of deep rough or awkward lies.
Still, he has one test left.
“I haven’t dunked yet,” Woods said, “so I’m looking forward to that.”
HARRINGTON’S BAD FINISH: Padraig Harrington approached the 17th tee late Thursday afternoon at 4 under and three shots behind Woods.
A disastrous triple-bogey, double-bogey finish left him with work to do to make the cut.
Harrington hit his tee shot into the water on 17, forcing him to take a drop in front of the tee box. He found the water again when his tee shot landed in the creek along the left side of the 18th fairway.
A promising round that began with five birdies in his first 10 holes turned into a 1-over 73.
Harrington was playing for the first time since tying for 35th at the Masters.
NEW LOOK: You had to look hard to find any indication this tournament had a different name just two months ago.
With the exception of the tickets, which were printed in November and still carry the Wachovia Championship name, every sign, backdrop, scoreboard and piece of merchandise had the Quail Hollow Championship name.
“I don’t think we missed anything out there,” tournament director Kym Hougham said.
Wells Fargo bought Wachovia late last year and inherited the title sponsor contract, which runs through 2014. But in late February, as financial companies were being criticized for lavish spending after getting government bailout money, Wells Fargo asked tournament officials to take the Wachovia name off the event.
In a week there was a new name and logo. Then 5,800 volunteer shirts were ditched for new ones. New caddie bibs were made.
The hardest part was replacing the hundreds of signs, ranging from concession menus to the murals of past champions.
“You have a lot more signs than you think,” Hougham said. “We were making signs up until the last minute.”
With the exception of a maintenance worker, who rode around in a golf cart in an old Wachovia Championship T-shirt, the transformation looked smooth.
MAGGERT’S BREAKOUT: Jeff Maggert has 5-year-old twins, a daughter and stepson about to graduate high school and a father-in-law fighting cancer.
Maggert’s family has taken a front seat in his life, and his golf game had suffered — until Thursday.
Maggert’s 4-under 68 put him in contention in a season that’s seen him miss the cut in seven of 10 events.
“There’s a lot of stuff at home that’s just kind of taking a bigger priority in my life than playing golf sometimes,” Maggert said. “It’s a lot of fun being at home and I probably haven’t worked as hard as I needed to to stay competitive out here.”
It helps this week that Maggert’s wife is from nearby Greensboro, allowing him to play and be with his family.
And a week after shooting 78 in the first round of another missed cut at the Zurich Classic, Maggert is enjoying is spot on the leaderboard.
“You talk to all the players in my age category, they all go through the same thing of trying to stay competitive and spending time at home with your kids and family,” Maggert said. “But I feel lucky that I’ve had a 20-year career out here and played well and still have opportunities to win tournaments at 45 years old.
“You can’t beat that.”
SHORT ROUGH, FAST GREENS: Golfers like birdies, and fans do, too. That was behind Quail Hollow’s decision to tinker with the course setup.
The rough, which had been as high as four inches in past years, is just two inches. It’s partly made up with faster greens, but it’s allowed players to be aggressive if they miss the fairway.
“This is the best setup I’ve ever seen because you always have a shot,” Phil Mickelson said after a 5-under 67 left him tied for second. “It makes for exciting golf.”
Hougham said they started thinking of tweaking the course after hearing golfers complain of high rough at a number of tournaments in Florida a couple of years ago.
“When the club became comfortable with them shooting 16-under par or 18-under par, that gave us the green light to go out and try this,” Hougham said.
The recession accelerated the move.
“In these economic times, we want this to be entertainment,” Hougham said. “When the people who play their discretionary dollar to come out here, we’re giving them roars and we’re giving them smiles. We’re letting them get excited about birdies instead of just watching people make a bunch of pars.”
DIVOTS: Sergio Garcia’s 1-under 71 included a triple-bogey and an eagle. Garcia tripled the 18th, his ninth hole of the day, when he his tee shot in the water and he three-putted. He recovered by making a 25-foot eagle putt on the par-5 seventh. … Defending champion Anthony Kim shot 70. … In his second tournament since turning pro, Danny Lee shot 71 the same day he accepted an exemption to play the Byron Nelson Championship. … Zurich Classic winner Jerry Kelly shot 72. … Adam Scott (77) continued to struggle. He’s missed the past three cuts. … Scott McCarron (illness) withdrew after nine holes and Mark Turnesa (neck) after eight.