Tiger Woods' shaky putting day at Wells Fargo was actually a promising sign

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Tiger Woods' shaky putting day at Wells Fargo was actually a promising sign

PGA Tour

Tiger Woods' shaky putting day at Wells Fargo was actually a promising sign

CHARLOTTE – Most players and caddies are in a hurry to get off property late in the afternoon when they have an early tee time the next day. Tiger Woods’ caddie, Joe LaCava, was in a hurry to get to the putting green at Quail Hollow after a five-hour round at the Wells Fargo Championship.

Woods was meeting him there after fulfilling his media obligations to figure out what went wrong with the flat stick Thursday during an even-par round of 71 that should have been in the 60s.

“You feel like coming off the course you probably shot the highest score you could have shot,” LaCava said. “We’re gonna go to the putting green and regroup and hopefully get better with the putter.”

It was one of Woods’ better ballstriking days. Good enough that it could have propelled him near the top of the leaderboard. As it stands, Woods is six shots back of John Peterson, who made back-to-back eagles at holes No. 7 and 8 to take a two-shot lead.

Woods tees off at 7:40 a.m. for Round 2 alongside Patrick Reed and Brooks Koepka with plenty of ground to make up. He’s T-35 with a group so large it would be incredibly wasteful to list them all, and though he was smiling after the round, it had to sting a bit to waste an efficient tee-to-green afternoon.

“Ballstriking-wise, I’m fine. I’m right there,” Woods said. “If I make a couple putts I’d be 2, 3 under par. I made a bogey there at 10. … Then I had a couple putts I missed, putts I normally should make at 14 and at 16. So right there, that puts me at 3 under par without really doing much.”

Sound golf math from Woods and an accurate assessment. He only hit 6 of 14 fairways but gave himself plenty of chances with 13 of 18 greens in regulation. The misses off the tee were not big. He didn’t have to punch out or lay up on any of the par 4s and found himself in a lot of fairway bunkers.

Throughout the Florida swing, Woods made up for a lack of control off the tee with his short game. The opposite occurred Thursday in Charlotte and Woods couldn’t capitalize on his overall command of the golf ball with new irons and a driver that’s been far straighter than it was two months ago.

Woods last played this course in 2012, before major renovations, including at the highly-unpopular par-3 fourth hole. Woods left his tee shot short of the green and three-putted for bogey, his first of the day, and had another three-putt on 16 from just 15 feet.

“This golf course is a lot harder than when I played,” Woods said. “A lot longer and it’s gotten more difficult. A lot more bunkers are in play, they’re more difficult to carry, and some of the greens have more slope.”

Woods entered the week ranked eighth on Tour in strokes gained: putting and 152nd in strokes gained: off-the-tee. Wednesday he was 119th in strokes gained: putting and 27th in strokes gained: off-the-tee.

Big picture, this was a promising round. Everyone is susceptible to a bad day with the putter and Woods is one of the greatest clutch putters in golf history. The two-way miss off the tee was of far greater concern in the early stages of this comeback, so to see it eliminated even for a day or two means he’s capable of shooting in the mid-60s.

We just haven’t seen it because Woods’ long and short games haven’t synced up on the same day. At least not yet.

This was Woods’ 23rd competitive round of the season. His lowest round, a 4-under 67, came in the third round of the Valspar Championship and is one of just three rounds lower than 69. He also has just three rounds higher than 72, meaning the majority have been right in the middle of the curve.

On paper, Thursday’s even-par 71 looks right in line with everything he’s done through six previous starts this season. This was drastically different though, because the only club he was fighting was his putter, which did cooperate on a 27.5-foot birdie on No. 8 that sent a large roar through the crowd.

“I’ve always been a pretty good putter all of my career, so that’s something I’ve never really worried too much about,” Woods said.

It wasn’t a good afternoon in terms of his chances to win the Wells Fargo. He’s not out of it but has a lot of names to surpass. One could argue it was a promising afternoon from a big picture perspective, a sign that Woods is beginning to tighten up the majority of his game with the Players Championship next week and the U.S. Open at Shinnecock rapidly approaching.

“If he putts OK, he shoots in the 60s and we’re right where we need to be,” LaCava said.

After a frustrating T-37 Masters week, during which he struggled with his irons, struggling with the putter and not much else was a step in the right direction.

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