CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The beastly, 491-yard ninth hole at the Quail Hollow Club demands a draw off the tee, nothing else. On Thursday afternoon during the first round of the Wells Fargo Championship, Tiger Woods lined up on the right side of the box, came out of his downswing and launched his tee ball right, a huge block into the trees.
His ball, rather improbably, came to rest underneath a CBS Sports cart, just a light toss away from the Champions Park Bar & BBQ, where sunburned spectators repaired under Michelob Ultra tents. On a severe side slope, some 30 yards off the fairway, he crouched to contemplate a possible escape route. None looked appealing. So taking an awkward stance, his feet spread wide to neutralize the slope, he hit a low bullet into the face of the hill, the ball skimming ahead some 20 yards. Still in the rough. Head down. Bogey.
The last time Woods played with Webb Simpson, they were paired together in the final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral. That’s where Tiger withdrew after 11 holes, citing tightness in his Achilles. Simpson remembers that March afternoon too — “We went from 10,000 people every hole to zero people,” he said with a laugh Thursday.
The fans turned out for this group again at Quail Hollow, to see the local product Simpson, who lives only a mile from the course and shot 65 to share the first-round lead, and Woods, whose narrative now seemingly shifts on a weekly basis.
On Thursday, Woods was undone by the same inconsistency that, save one marvelous week in March, has hampered him all season. Sure, there may have been a little rust. After all, this was Woods’ first tournament in three weeks. But in a video Q&A posted on his website Monday, Woods said the main difference between his play at Bay Hill, where he won by five shots, and Augusta National, where he tied for 40th in his worst performance there as a pro, was as simple as posture. If his posture is poor, then his takeaway is poor, his angles are poor and, ultimately, the result is poor.
Woods was “still fighting it” a few times on the course, he said. When his alignment felt off, or he wasn’t committed to his swing thoughts, he backed off, reset and then let loose. Those moments are “in-game adjustments,” and they allowed him to salvage a 71 when he clearly didn’t have his best stuff.
Afterward, Woods rattled off his mistakes — a flubbed chip on 1, a poor half-wedge shot on 8, a short-sided miss on 10 — but felt reasonably optimistic. Warm temperatures, light winds, soft conditions — oh, Tour players salivate.
It was the third time this season that Woods has broken par in the first round, even if his opening 71 left him well off the pace (T-56). Before he even teed off Thursday, the ‘board was dotted with red numbers — four 66s, in fact, while two stars, Lee Westwood and Phil Mickelson, each struggled out of the gate but wound up with 71. And the big star playing behind Woods, World No. 2 Rory McIlroy, shot 70.
“It’s still within reach, obviously,” Woods said. “We’ve got a long way to go. … We’re going to have to go get it.”
— Ryan Lavner
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No. 18, Par 4, 478 yards
Facing the toughest hole on the course, Tiger remains six shots off the lead as he heads into his final hole of the day.
• Off the tee: Tiger hits 2-iron down the left side of the fairway, putting himself in a good position uphill to the green.
• Approach shot: Tiger, hits 7-iron from 194 yards, just missing the creek to the left of the green and landing in the soft rough.
• Around the green: Tiger pitches up over a small ridge next to the green, landing right underneath the hole.
• On the green: Tiger holes his putt to save par.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 1-under (thru 18 holes)
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No. 17, Par 3, 217 yards
Now only six shots back of co-leaders Webb Simpson, Stewart Cink and Ryan Moore, Tiger moves to the course’s signature hole. There is a new tee at No. 17, it is more straight on to the green. The players felt the previous teeing ground was awkward. The new location affords a bigger landing area into the green.
• Off the tee: Tiger nearly holes out, sending right over the flag and settling about 15 feet from the flag.
• On the green: Tiger’s birdie attempt cuts under the hole, not playing it enough out to the left and settles for a two-putt par.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 1 under (thru 17 holes)
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No. 16, Par 4, 480 yards
Tiger has birdied two of his last three holes and seems to be finding his game a bit coming home.
• Off the tee: Tiger hits his tee ball on a nice line, but finds a fairway bunker, as the shot carries a bit too far.
• Approach shot: Tiger takes an aggressive line out of the bunker and comes up just short of the green and will be able to chip with a shot to hole it.
• Around the green: Tiger nearly holes out the chip shot and taps in for a par, which he will be happy about considering his position off the tee.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 1 under (thru 16 holes)
• Elsewhere on the course: World No. 2 Rory McIlroy moved to 3 under with a birdie at No. 15.
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No. 15, Par 5, 566 yards
Now on the final par 5 of the day, Tiger needs to take advantage to get into red figures heading into the final stretch of holes. There is also a new clubhouse leader, with Ryan Moore picking up birdie at No. 9 to post a 7-under 65.
• Off the tee: Tiger’s tee ball finds the left rough, but is just off the fairway and should be able to attack the green.
• Second shot: While he isn’t happy with the swing or trajectory, the ball runs up about 20 yards short of the green and he’ll be able to attack the pin with his third shot.
• Around the green: Tiger hits a nice pitch shot to about three feet to set up a good birdie attempt. He drains it to get into red figures, but is still seven shots back after Webb Simpson moved to 8 under with a birdie as well.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 1 under (thru 15 holes)
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No. 14, Par 4, 346 yards
Still trailing by seven strokes, Tiger Woods moves to a short par 4 that he can attack.
• Off the tee: With iron in hand, Tiger smoothly puts it in the middle of the fairway to set up a wedge into the green.
• Approach shot: From 107 yards, Tiger flies it about eight feet past the hole, where he’ll have a chance for a second birdie in a row.
• On the green: Tiger’s birdie attempt is never on line and he taps in for a par, missing a prime opportunity to get into red figures. Tiger was really confused by that putt. He brought in caddie Joe Lacava for the read, which is rare for Tiger. But he still misread it. He gritted his teeth and muttered “it can’t go left.”
TIGER ON THE DAY: Even (thru 14 holes)
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No. 13, Par 3, 201 yards
With Webb Simpson taking the lead at 7 under, Tiger Woods is now eight shots back and in desperate need of a birdie.
• Off the tee: Tiger chokes up a bit on his club and lands it on the front of the green and it runs to about pin-high and about 20 feet right of the flag.
• On the green: And he gets that birdie he needed, draining a right-to-left putt to get back to even par.
TIGER ON THE DAY: Even (thru 13 holes)
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No. 12, Par 4, 456 yards
Tiger’s swing off the tee is starting to look better, but he can’t seem to put four or five shots together to make a scoring run.
• Off the tee: Tiger blisters another tee ball down the middle of the fairway.
• Approach shot: From 156 yards, Tiger puts it pin-high and about 20 feet left of the flag.
• On the green: Tiger’s birdie attempt is never on line and runs three feet past. He makes the comebacker for another par. Meanwhile, Webb Simpson drained a putt of more than 100 feet to move to 7 under, one shot better than five others atop the leaderboard. It has to be demoralizing for Tiger to see Simpson eight shots ahead of him.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 1 over (thru 12 holes)
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No. 11, Par 4, 421 yards
Coming off a pedestrian par at another par 5, Tiger is running out of scoring holes.
• Off the tee: Tiger chooses to take iron off the tee and puts it right in the middle of the fairway.
• Approach shot: From about 175 yards, Tiger plays a nice shot to the center of the green and sets up a 20-foot birdie attempt.
• On the green: Tiger plays the putt from left-to-right, but comes up short and settles for a two-putt par.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 1 over (thru 11 holes)
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No. 10, Par 5, 591 yards
Tiger is going to need to get something going if he hopes not to be out of contention after Round 1. He is currently T-99.
• Off the tee: Tiger blisters his tee ball down the center of the fairway, but will still have plenty to go if he hopes to reach in two.
• Second shot: With 252 yards to the pin, Tiger takes dead aim at the pin and it comes up about two yards short and funnels back down the front and right next to a drain.
• Around the green: Tiger gets free relief from the drain, but has to take it out to the right of two sprinklers in front of him and the pitch runs about 20 feet past the hole. Tiger’s birdie try comes up about two feet short and he taps in for a par, failing to take advantage of a great drive.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 1 over (thru 10 holes)
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No. 9, Par 4, 491 yards
Tiger is managing to stay at even par despite some poor ball striking.
• Off the tee: Tiger sends his tee ball to the right, letting the club go after impact. The ball settles off the fairway and under a CBS sports cart.
• Approach shots: Tiger has to try and hit his ball from behind a tree and under overhanging branches. But he tops it and only advances it about 30 yards. His third shot nearly bounces into the hole and it runs past by about 25 feet, which he’ll have for par.
• On the green: He two-putts for his third bogey on the front nine. He turns in a 1-over 37, seven shots off the lead. Meanwhile, playing competitor Webb Simpson makes the turn at 5-under 31.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 1 over (thru 9 holes)
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No. 8, Par 4, 343 yards
Tiger takes back the honors off the tee with his second birdie of the day at the par-5 7th hole.
• Off the tee: Tiger uses 3-wood off the tee and takes it down the left side of the fairway, setting himself up perfectly to the right pin location.
• Approach shot: Tiger plays another poor chip, dropping his club in disgust after he hits the green, about 20 feet under the hole.
• On the green: Tiger gives the birdie putt a run, but it slides under the cup and he settles for a par.
TIGER ON THE DAY: Even (thru 8 holes)
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No. 7, Par 5, 532 yards
Tiger will need to take advantage of this par 5 if he hopes to stay within striking distance of the top of the leaderboard.
• Off the tee: After watching both of his playing competitors go well right, Tiger yanks his tee ball well to the left and will be hitting from among trees on his second shot.
• Second shot: Despite the wayward drive, Tiger has a shot to go at the green. With only 201 yards to the pin, Tiger comes up short and in the rough in front of the green, leaving himself an awkward pitch shot.
• Around the green: Tiger plays a flop shot to about eight feet beyond the hole for his birdie. And for the second time today, Tiger follows a bogey with a birdie, putting this putt right in the middle of the cup.
TIGER ON THE DAY: Even (thru 7 holes)
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No. 6, Par 3, 250 yards
Coming off his third-straight par after a bogey-birdie start, Tiger faces the longest par 3 on the course to try and get something going.
• Off the tee: Whether it was a mishit or misclub, Tiger flies his tee ball into a greenside bunker.
• Around the green: Tiger blasts his bunker shot to about six feet under the hole. Tiger misreads the par putt and it runs past by about four feet under the hole. He yells “God!” as the ball runs past. He makes the comebacker for a bogey.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 1 over (thru 6 holes)
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No. 5, Par 5, 570 yards
The first par 5 of the day for Tiger, who seems to be sputtering a bit on Thursday, yet is still managing to stay at even despite some shaky shots.
• Off the tee: Facing a tricky dogleg left, Tiger takes 3-wood and he blisters it down the center of the fairway.
• Second shot: From about 265 yards, Tiger rips a long iron off the back edge into the rough. He gets a free drop off a sprinkler head and gets a good break with the ball coming to rest on the fringe.
• Around the green: Tiger plays a very average pitch – his second so-so one of the day – and leaves himself about 12 feet for birdie. His birdie attempt slides by on the left and he settles for a disappointing par.
TIGER ON THE DAY: Even (thru 5 holes)
• Elsewhere on the course: World No. 2 Rory McIlroy, playing the group right behind Tiger, is even through four holes. Meanwhile, five players are in the clubhouse at 6 under, including Rickie Fowler.
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No. 4, Par 4, 489 yards
Tiger has all of his basis covered now with a birdie, a par and a bogey through the first three holes.
• Off the tee: Tiger pulls driver for the first time on Thursday and he finds a bit of the left rough at this huge par 4.
• Approach shot: Tiger goes from one bit of trouble to another, tugging his approach shot to the left and having to holler out, “Fore!” The ball comes to rest in a trap to the left of the green, where he’ll have a tricky up-and-down.
• Around the green: Tiger splashes out his bunker shot to about six feet. He drains the putt to somehow save par despite his flirt with disaster.
TIGER ON THE DAY: Even (thru 4 holes)
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No. 3, Par 4, 452 yards
Back to even after a nice birdie at the par-3 2nd hole, Tiger faces another par-4 that he can attack from the fairway.
• Off the tee: Tiger takes 3-wood off the tee and goes a little too far left. It kicks around in the trees, but drops just off the fairway. Tiger is sporting sunglasses when he isn’t hitting. The sun is almost like a camera flash at the moment and can be blinding.
• Approach shot: Tiger comes up just short of the green with his second shot, leaving himself more than 30 feet to the hole in the middle of the green.
• Around the green: A simple two-putt for Tiger leaves him with a par.
TIGER ON THE DAY: Even (thru 3 holes)
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No. 2, Par 3, 178 yards
Tiger reaches his first par 3 of the day after a poor bogey at the opening hole.
• Off the tee: Tiger puts it right in the middle of the green, leaving himself more than 20 feet and a quick putt to the front-left pin.
• On the green: Tiger sneaks the lengthy birdie putt into the left side of the cup for a bounceback birdie.
TIGER ON THE DAY: Even (thru 2 holes)
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No. 1, Par 4, 410 yards
With temperatures in the low 90s with a light wind, Tiger is wearing a lightweight white shirt and already sweating up a storm. Tiger will face good scoring conditions, with Rickie Fowler currently in the clubhouse in the lead after a 6-under 66. Fowler is one of six players at 6 under, with only Patrick Reed and Brian Harman still on the course.
• Off the tee: Tiger rips an iron down the fairway at the somewhat-short 1st hole. Tiger is playing with local favorite Webb Simpson, who was Tiger’s playing partner when he withdrew with an injury at Doral in early March.
• Approach shots: Tiger uses short iron into the green, but flies it a little long and off the back of the green, where he’ll be faced with a chip back to the hole.
• Around the green: Tiger flubs the chip shot, leaving himself about eight feet for par. He misses the par putt and opens with an unlikely bogey.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 1 over (thru 1 hole)
• • •
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