DORAL, Fla. – It was not as they envisioned when Nos. 1, 2, and 3 were paired together for the first round of this World Golf Championship spectacular.
These guys are good? There’s a large body of work to support that claim, but on this day, a disclaimer was necessary, even for the trio of Tiger Woods, Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson. Indeed, they are good, but fierce wind and a firm, fast golf course is better.
How stunning was the play of these three stars as they completed the final eight holes to their first round at the re-designed Blue Monster? Consider Stenson’s comment as he walked by a group of reporters who had just witnessed moments earlier not one, not two, but three double bogeys by the group at the 493-yard, par-4 14th?
“Are you having fun watching?” asked the Swede, “because I’m not having fun playing.”
Yes, it was surreal stuff to watch three guys who combined for nine PGA Tour victories in 2013 stumble along the back side of a course that lived up to its name. Credit a big shift in wind – south-southwest Thursday, dead west Friday morning – for the struggles, or perhaps the lads are still trying to figure out what Gil Hanse has redesigned for Donald Trump, but whatever the reason, it was a rough morning for everybody, but particularly this trio.
Combined, Woods, Scott, and Stenson played the eight holes (Nos. 11-18) in 8 over, and the lowlights were plenty. To wit:
• In their first four holes, the trio had only one miserly try for birdie, that being Stenson’s 33-footer at the par-5 12th.
• It wasn’t until the 15th that one of them – in this case, Woods – made a birdie.
• But the definite head-shaker came at the 14th, one of those holes that Hanse transformed into something that makes the boys take note. Scott and Stenson were so far left of the fairway that they found a small stream of water that 99 times out of 100 isn’t in play. It continued in an ugly fashion – Stenson hitting his third out to the fairway and his fourth onto the green; Scott hitting a tree with his third, then into a bunker with his fourth. Each managed to make double, but it was Woods who left folks speechless.
From the middle of the fairway, Woods’ approach from 22 yards went through the green and into a deep bunker. It took him two to get out, then two putts from 35 feet and you get something from off an In-N-Out menu: double, double, double.
Here, it got curious. Clearly stunned by the turn of events, Scott three-putted from about 9 feet at the par-3 15th, the hole where Woods finally stopped the bleeding. One could have imaged the Aussie and the Swede being steamed, but Woods? Hadn’t he made the birdie?
Yet at the 16th, a 341-yard hole that can be attacked by those capable of a 290-300-yard carry over water, Woods inexplicably let it fly – even though the group ahead (Justin Rose, Zach Johnson, Sergio Garcia) were still on the green.
Blowing off steam? Ignorant of golf etiquette? Hard to say, but the group on the green all stopped what they were doing and looked back toward the tee. “I was a little surprised that someone hit,” said Johnson, but because of the quick turnaround from finishing Round 1 and starting Round 2, no one else offered comment.
Stenson and Scott, however, never moved a muscle. They stood and waited – patiently, of course, because Garcia did chop up the hole and made a triple bogey. When cleared to hit, Stenson and Scott both drove it into bunkers that guard the side of the green, and neither of them was much closer than Woods. His tee shot had been pulled a touch left, coming to rest perhaps 35 yards from the green, but had it been straight it very well may have bounded up onto the green, so it remains a questionable play for him.
Woods did birdie the hole, then he followed with another at 17, but at the 18th, he pulled his tee shot into water and made his fourth bogey in eight holes. The only good news is, that part of the assignment was over, though none of the heralded threesome could smile.
Stenson had played the eight holes in 1 over to shoot 73, Scott had gone 5 over to shoot 75 and Woods had gone 2 over for 76.
Up ahead of them, Johnson could commiserate, though he played seven holes in level par to shoot 70. “Holy cow,” Johnson said. “So much for benign conditions in the morning.”