Blues before rhythm as Woods shoots 74 in return

Tiger Woods during his first-round 74 in his return to PGA Tour at the 2014 Quicken Loans National at Congressional.
Tiger Woods during his first-round 74 in his return to PGA Tour at the 2014 Quicken Loans National at Congressional. ( Getty Images )

Thursday, June 26, 2014

BETHESDA, Md. – You know rhythm and blues. This was blues, then rhythm for Tiger Woods. Predictably rusty in his first competitive round since March 9, he bogeyed seven of his first 12 holes, mainly because of an inferior short game, and then birdied three of his last six, thanks to three short-iron approach shots within 4 feet.

That added up to a 3-over-par 74 in the Quicken Loans National first round and the sense he played better than he scored.

“I made so many little mistakes,” Woods said after hitting nine of 14 fairways and 10 greens in regulation on a Congressional course with thick rough and fast greens. “So I played a lot better than the score indicated, which is good.”

In terms of score, the positive is that he found his groove after being held back by the sloppy short shots. In the big picture, though, his best news had to do with a back that was surgically repaired with a microdiscectomy March 31.

This is tuneup time for Woods. He’s not playing for June. He’s playing for the two major championships of July and August and beyond. So the fact he had no problems with his back qualifies as perhaps the news of the day. You might say the round didn’t matter except for spinal health.

“The back’s great,” said Woods, who when last seen inside the ropes battled a recurring pinched nerve in his lower back. “I had no issues at all. No twinges, no nothing. It felt fantastic. That’s one of the reasons why I let go on those tee shots. I hit it pretty hard out there.”

If there was a surprise, it’s that his chipping, pitching and putting were off, considering that’s pretty much all he has practiced the last 2-3 months. But then preparation at home and tournament golf are two different things, as the winner of 79 PGA Tour titles discovered again.

“The hard part was just getting into the rhythm of playing competitively,” Woods said. “You play with your buddies all day for cash and stuff, but it’s just not the same. … It unfortunately took a while to get the feel of it.”

Early and often over a dozen holes.

Starting on the back nine, he three-putted 11 from 49 feet, leaving the first putt 18 feet short. After he birdied 14 from 9 1/2 feet, the longest one he holed all day, he hit a poor pitch 13 feet short in bogeying 15. He chipped to 6 feet on the par-5 16th from short right of the green but missed. He failed to get up and down again from the left fringe at 17, where his chip ran 6 feet by. The 18th was more of the same, where he chipped to 10 feet and missed.

“My feels were off,” he said.

That continued for another 45 minutes. He pitched to 11 feet at No. 2 and missed the par putt. From the fairway at the next, he pulled a wedge into a bunker and failed to save from 5 feet.

“Those are bad pitches and those are the ones I should get up and down every time,” said Woods, who made only 51 1/2 feet of putts in the round.

Hole after hole he failed to save par. At that point, it seemed the only thing he was saving was his best stuff for sometime later. At that point, it seemed like he needed someone to pass him a spray can of WD-40.

But comfort would kick in. And we would see his A game.

He hit approaches to 3 feet 9 inches in birdieing Nos. 4 and 7 and knocked a sand wedge shot to 3 1/2 feet in making another at 8.

“The more I played, the more I felt comfortable about shot selections, my sight lines, all different things,” Woods said.

Shooting 74 might have put him eight shots off the early lead of Greg Chalmers. But 74 beat the alternative of being sidelined, something he knows too much about.

“It’s nice to get back out here playing again,” he said.

Playing at this point, of course, is a process for him. He didn’t use the P word Thursday, as he has countless times, but it applies. Once again he’s trying to get rid of corrosion.

“You’ve got to give him a little slack,” said playing competitor Jason Day, who shot 73. “He has to get back into it and get the feel of competition again. It was more rust than anything today.”

For a while, anyway. The third in the group, 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, noticed the transformation.

“He finally found his rhythm,” Spieth said after shooting 74 despite hitting only five fairways and seven greens. “And we saw what happens when he found his rhythm there. So look for a pretty solid round tomorrow out of him. Wouldn’t be surprised if he shoots a few under.” readers: We value your input and welcome your comments, but please be respectful in this forum.