Sloppy finish leaves Woods in middle of pack
PITTSFORD, N.Y. Tiger Woods basically turned 67 into 71. We’ve seen him do the opposite, what, a couple hundred times? So this was different, an odd incoming cocktail, mixed with a rushed putt, a par-5 bogey, a fat long iron off the tee, a double bogey on his last hole when a difficult flop shot flopped.
Oak Hill, with its high rough and sloping greens, won’t play much easier than on PGA Championship opening day, for the turf was softened by overnight rain and wind nowhere to be felt. So it appeared Woods might be off and running when he faced that 3 1/2-foot, downhill-sidehill birdie attempt on his 11th hole, No. 2, on the brink of reaching 3 under par.
But then his momentum reversed. Feeling hurried because his threesome had been put on the clock a hole earlier, he didn’t commit to the line and blocked the ball to the right. Then he missed a 14-foot birdie putt left at the par-3 third. Then he bogeyed the par-5 fourth after three substandard shots. Then, facing a poor lie, he flubbed a short-side pitch into a bunker and doubled the last.
PHOTOS: Tiger Woods at the PGA Championship
Tiger Woods has won five times this season, including last week's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in a runaway -- but he's chasing his first major of the year at this week's PGA Championship at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y. See pictures from his first round right here.
A potential cruise turned into uncharacteristic rapid rewind for a man who just last week won by seven strokes against an all-star field.
“The round realistically could have been under par easily,” he said.
But then he got a little sloppy in a round that was a tale of two nines. On the back, he scrambled beautifully and converted his only two birdie chances, from inside 2 feet at the par-5 13th and from 9 feet two holes later.
Having turned at 2 under, Woods then missed chances. An 18-foot uphiller at the first that came up short. The little slider at the next. The 14-footer at the third. The 6-foot par putt at the fourth.
It just so happens all those came on the holes where he and Keegan Bradley and Davis Love III were on the clock for having fallen out of position. This apparently unnerved Woods, particularly when facing the short birdie attempt at the second.
“We had to get going and try to close the gap,” Woods said when describing the putt that started his momentum shift. “It would have been nice to take a little bit longer on that putt. It was a pretty tricky little putt. Looking from behind the ball, it looked like it was going to snap (right). Looking from behind the hole, it looked like it wasn’t going to snap. I ended up playing it somewhere in between and then blocked it.”
He hit his lone driver of the day at the 570-yard fourth, and it produced a one-handed slice into the right rough. His hand also came off the club on a second-shot gouge that hit a tree on the right and left him much farther back than desired, leading him to say loudly, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Clearly frustrated by the 30-minute chain of events, he then “stuck a 9-iron in the ground” and found a bunker short right. His 6-foot par putt brushed the right lip.
The fidgety Bradley had reached that green with a second shot from the rough. Woods needed four to get there. Right after, they went off the clock, but some damage was done.
Asked if he was able to block out being timed, Woods said, “We have to be conscious of it, but we play just about every week like that (with commotion surrounding his group). So that’s nothing unusual. We have a lot of people following us and a lot of cameras going off and the movement inside the galleries. We have a tendency of having that happen.”
His worst result came at the last, the 452-yard ninth. He hit a decent drive onto the first cut of rough on the right and tried to curve his ball around trees. But it came to rest in a bad lie in long rough short and left of a green featuring a front-left hole location.
“No lie at all,” he said. “It settled down and into the grain at the same time.”
Attempting to pitch the ball some 20 feet past the hole, he instead hit a flop that traveled only a few yards, finding a bunker and leading to a missed 13-foot bogey putt. So he walked off with a 1-over round, thanks to having gone 3 over on the last six holes, and found himself six shots off the clubhouse lead.
“I’m still right there,” he said, using words we’ve heard often from him. “I mean, as of right now I’m only six back, and we have a long way to go.”
For the day, he hit nine fairways and nine greens in regulation. He saved par seven of the times he missed greens. He seemed satisfied except for the score and the few glitches.
“I played really well today,” he said. “As I said, just a couple (of bad shots).”
They were bad enough to mean the difference between being on the leaderboard and being in the pack. When you are golf’s ultimate front runner, when your major-championship victory total has been stuck at 14 for more than five years, when the weight of pressure might be mounting, this would not qualify as a good start.