Tiger Woods' rebirth takes big hit with brutal opening-round 77

Tiger Woods' rebirth takes big hit with brutal opening-round 77

Euro Tour

Tiger Woods' rebirth takes big hit with brutal opening-round 77

Dubai, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – Pilgrimages in the Middle East are nothing new. The one that took place in the opening round of the $2.65 million Omega Dubai Desert Classic had no religious significance. The faithful who flocked to the par-5 10th tee at 8:15 a.m. local time were hoping to see the rebirth of a golfing god.

They left with the realization that miracles don’t always come true.

About 350 fans turned up to watch Tiger Woods start the third tournament of his comeback. Little did they know they’d be more impressed with the man-child playing alongside Woods than their hero.

Woods returned a 5-over 77 to Matt Fitzpatrick’s 69 and was lying T-121 in the 132-man field. In seven previous appearances around the Emirates course, Woods’s worst score was a 75 in the final round in 2011. He held a 68.17 stroke average through 28 rounds, and was 92 under. So 77 is actually nine shots above his personal par.

The baby-faced Fitzpatrick was just two years old when Tiger won his first major. He’s so young he doesn’t remember Woods at his best. As if finishing eight shots behind his 22-year-old playing companion wasn’t enough, Woods is 12 shots behind old nemesis Sergio Garcia, who took the early lead with a 7-under 65.

“I wasn’t in pain at all,” said Woods, dismissing suggestions he looked to be walking gingerly. “I was just trying to hit shots and I wasn’t doing a very good job.”

His final hole summed up his round. He had a realistic chance at his first birdie of the day but missed from 10 feet. It wasn’t his first poor putt.

“I just could not hit the putts hard enough,” he said. “I left every putt short.”

Woods’s chances of making a successful return to a tournament he’s won twice got off to an ominous start. The 14-time major winner missed the 10th fairway by 50 yards with a pulled drive. He was nearer the adjacent 16th hole, his ball coming to rest in deep rough 10 yards from that fairway. He could only hack out into a sandy waste area, from where he found a back greenside bunker en route to an inevitable bogey.

Fitzpatrick had no such problems. He found the green in two from the fairway and two-putted for birdie to be two shots up on Woods from the start.

“I hit two shots on the first and I turned to my caddie and I said ‘I think this is one of my favorite rounds already,’” Fitzpatrick said.

The best, or perhaps worst, examples of Woods’s lack of tournament rounds came at the 12th and 18th holes. He drove into the left rough at par-4, 12th and could only advance his ball to the front of the green. What should have been a cast iron up and down turned into an ugly bogey. He putted from off the green and left his ball 15 feet from the hole.

The par-5 18th was another reminder that Woods’s game is far from sharp. He and Fitzpatrick laid up short of the water. The Englishman played a sensible shot past the flagstick while Woods went for a sucker front pin and his ball spun back into the water. He found the green with his fifth shot and holed a 10-foot bogey putt.

Fitzpatrick was six shots ahead when they walked off the green. That Woods dropped two of those shots on par 5s is proof his days of overpowering golf courses are long gone.

He now needs a miracle just to make the cut.

“Hopefully this wind blows tomorrow and I shoot a good round and get back to even par now,” Woods said. “That’s certainly not out of the realm of winning the golf tournament.

“I’m fighting my a** off to try and shoot a score. I’m trying to get back to even par, and once I get back to even par, try and get 1- or 2-under. Just try and creep my way back.”

That’s what Fitzpatrick wants to see.

“It’s his third tournament back so everyone’s going to be rusty after not playing for two, two and a half years,” Fitzpatrick said.

“No one wants to see anyone play poorly. I think obviously he’s working at it. You look at how hard he’s worked in the past to get to where he has, I’m sure that’s not going to change.

“Hopefully he’s going to be back. Everyone wants to see him back.”

The larger crowds tomorrow for the first day of the weekend here in Dubai will be hoping for that too.

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