Sometimes the words and the score don’t match up. Take Tiger Woods’ take Thursday on his first round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
“I didn’t drive it well, didn’t hit my irons well and didn’t control my distances well or my trajectory,” Woods said at a tournament he has won seven times.
So, then, considering that self-described mess, what did Woods shoot?
The answer would be 69. It doesn’t fit his description until you realize that Woods has 14 clubs in his bag, not 13. It so happens that with that final instrument, the shortest in his collection, Woods putted beautifully and thus scored perhaps better than he deserved.
Specifically, Woods made 109 feet of putts. He converted six putts longer than 9 feet. That kind of work on the greens enabled him to go 5 under par on the four par 5s and earn a place on the leaderboard.
Woods stayed within striking distance of playing competitor and leader Justin Rose (7-under 65) because he reversed his direction after bogeying Nos. 17 and 18. He saved pars at Nos. 1 and 2, from 10 and 6 feet, respectively. Then he birdied Nos. 4-6, ending the day with four birdies, an eagle at 16 and three bogeys.
“I scored well,” said Woods, who hit eight fairways and 12 greens in regulation and took 28 putts. “I certainly didn’t play my best, but I got around and made a few good saves.”
Then he added a significant big-picture sentence: “I kept myself in the tournament.”
He trails Rose by four strokes largely because as well as Woods rolled the ball, the Englishman putted even better in a morning round that was cold at first and windy in the 10-15-mph range.
Rose has been known as a streaky, inconsistent putter over the years. While he led the 2012 PGA Tour in greens in regulation, he ranked only 128th in putting. So he decided to change his putting method last summer, under the guidance of David Orr. Rose changed his setup, moving closer to the ball, and went from a mallet to a blade.
Orr said last fall that because of the kind of improved putting we saw at the Ryder Cup, Rose is in position to finally realize his vast potential. His work on the greens Thursday would seem to support that thesis.
“The putter was really, really hot,” Rose said after making an eagle, six birdies and a bogey at 11.
How hot? Well, he made 10 putts longer than 6 feet and seven longer than 9 feet. All told, he made 127 feet of putts and used his putter only 25 times.
“That’s as good of a putting round as I’ve had in a long time,” he said. “Today is the first day it showed up the way we’ve wanted.”
Rose was surprised by the 65 because Bay Hill isn’t the easiest track around, and the first few holes felt like a grind to him in the cold. Then there’s the matter that putting can make up for shortcomings elsewhere.
“It’s just fun to know that I obviously can do it (putting like that), and I take a lot of confidence from that,” Rose said. “It’s been nice to go out there and not have to tinker with the stroke too much and just be able to putt.”
Interestingly, Rose says he’s “halfway to feeling really, really comfortable” with his new putting style. If that’s true, there’s no telling how much he might win if his tank ever reaches full.
“Today is a good milestone,” he said. “(It’s good to) just go out and putt, see putts, not feel like you’re thinking about your stroke, your backswing,” Rose said.
Not that the rest of his game was off. Rose hit 13 greens in regulation in putting together what he called a “clever” round. Clever, as in good course management, smart thinking, hitting the appropriate shots.
Woods, for one, noticed from up close.
“He played a beautiful round of golf,” Woods said. “He had every single facet of the game working. He drove it beautifully, hit his irons well and made a bunch of putts.”