DORAL, Fla. –– Tiger Woods walked off at the Honda Classic with a sore back. This time, at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, he left mid-round with what appeared to be a sore mood.
Woods, the world’s top-ranked golfer, played 10 holes Thursday at Trump National Doral before play was halted for the day due to darkness. His summary of the day went something like this: Four bunkers off the tee, two lip-outs, two three-putts, two bogeys, 2 over par, two weather delays and apparently too much rust.
That performance left him five strokes behind the clubhouse lead of Harris English, who shot a 3-under 69 and was one of six players to complete 18 holes at Trump National Doral. Woods was tied for 48th in the 68-man field.
In the sense there were no grimaces after swings, Woods showed no signs of the recurring back injury that led to his Sunday withdrawal after 13 holes at the Honda. And his words said as much.
“Felt a lot better today,” he told a Tour media official upon leaving the grounds.
He went on to say he had a good pre-round warmup session after three days of not hitting full shots. The back, he said, felt good all day, even through the first weather stoppage of almost two and a half hours.
“Hopefully I can get back out there in the morning, play well and work back to even par by the end of the first round, then shoot a low one in the afternoon,” Woods said.
Having played only six Tour rounds this year before the injury, Woods is trying to play his way back into top competitive shape. His preparation for this tournament consisted of getting treatment, working on his short game and mapping out a plan with caddie Joe LaCava. Thursday was the first time he played Doral since it was redesigned by architect Gil Hanse.
That hardly resembled his prep work before the four times he won Tour events here. And the lack of practice showed, particularly with regard to touch. Woods hit four of eight fairways, seven of 10 greens in regulation and took 20 putts.
Most disturbing to him were a pair of three-putts on his last three holes. After reaching the par-5 eighth in two with a long-iron approach, he three-putted for par from 32 feet, missing a comebacker from 4 feet, 9 inches. Then, after driving into a right bunker on the par-5 10th and laying up, he hit a poor short-iron approach to 54 feet from the pin and missed from 8 feet coming back.
That was his second bogey. His first came on the 196-yard fourth, where he hit what he apparently thought was a good tee shot. But the ball bounced hard and ran through the firm green, leading Woods to moan, “How the hell did it go so far.” He then chipped 13 feet past and missed.
Then there were the two lip-outs. He lipped out from 13 feet at the third and grazed the right edge at the fifth.
So far this year, Woods tied for 80th at the Farmers Insurance Open and shared 41st at the Omega Dubai Classic. Then came the Honda withdrawal with a back problem similar to one that bothered him late last season.
Clearly he’ll need to improve his touch if he is to snap out of what could be called a mini-slump.