Lessons learned from Tiger Woods' Round 1 gut check at PGA Championship

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Lessons learned from Tiger Woods' Round 1 gut check at PGA Championship

PGA Tour

Lessons learned from Tiger Woods' Round 1 gut check at PGA Championship

ST. LOUIS – Fans were lined up 10 to 12 rows deep Thursday morning around the 10th tee box to watch Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy get it started at the PGA Championship.

A voice directed at Woods emerged from the masses at Bellerive right after the tee shots went airborne.

“Teach these young guns what’s up!”

Woods did give McIlroy and Thomas a lesson over the next 4 ½ hours, even though it probably wasn’t what that dude had in mind. He started with a bogey at 10 and a double at 11, looking like he might shoot himself out of the tournament before it even got started.

“A lot of things could happen (at that point),” Woods said. “Not a lot of them were positive.”

Woods hung his head several times on the front nine and the galleries were subdued, but he approached each shot as he always does – with 100 percent focus, like it’s the most important golf shot he’s ever hit.

He wasn’t giving in.

Then he started to find the fairways and get in a bit of a groove. The noise outside the ropes amped up, Woods started walking a bit taller and a bit quicker, and by the time he drained a birdie putt at on his 10th hole he was back to 1 over on the day.

“Just hung in there,” Woods said. “I was trying to grind away at it, pick away at it, trying to get to maybe 1 over par at the turn. … I was able to grind out a score today.”

That’s something even players of McIlroy and Thomas’ caliber can appreciate and learn from. Thomas was six shots in front of Woods through seven holes. Woods picked up five shots on him over the final 12 and finished with an even-par 70, five shots behind morning leader Rickie Fowler.

Woods played the back nine at 2 under, despite never playing this course in competition and never having the chance to play Nos. 6 through 9 earlier in the week.

He went a little more conservative than expected and surrendered some distance off the tee to his younger counterparts, hitting seven drivers, one 3-wood and six driving irons on the par 4s and 5s.

It was blazing hot for much of the morning and Woods changed Nike shirts after hitting his tee shot at the par-4 third. Fresh threads seemed to give him a boost, as he hit his next shot to 2 feet for a tap-in birdie.

He was feeling the heat during his most ridiculous par of the day, at the par-4 15th. He hit driver dead left off the tee and had to clear a huge group of fans from way off the fairway to hit his second. He tried to draw something toward the green but it didn’t stop, curving well left of the green and into another tough spot off the fairway 68 yards from the flag.

He got up-and-down from there, making a 6-footer to save his four.

Thomas couldn’t help but laugh when he told him “nice par,” and for the rest of the morning the misses were more manageable and less frequent.

Getting back to even par during his bogey-free back nine was a big accomplishment, and he did so at the par-5 eighth hole while going for the green in two.

Fans paying close attention were stoked to see Woods pull 3-wood out of the bag from 293 yards out. He “tattooed” the approach to a front bunker and got up and down for his fourth birdie of the day.

Overall, it was another impressive show of resolve.

Even if Woods’ body doesn’t allow him to do the things he used to do while winning 14 career majors, he still knows what it takes mentally.

“The main thing about major championships is to make sure you have enough energy,” Woods said. “This is a long grind. These are marathons. These are four long days.”

Woods stumbled out of the gate, for sure, but he got himself back in the race and finished five shots off the lead. It’s the same position he was in after Round 1 at Carnoustie, where he briefly took the outright lead three days later.

A similar run seems unlikely this week on a course that demands more off the tee, with Woods nearing the end of a long, taxing year.

It’s just that whenever Woods is counted out, like he was after a mere two holes Thursday and has been countless times over the past five years, he finds a way to get up and keep moving forward.

There was one other voice that carried above the rest on the opening tee shot, with a one-word message.

“Believe!”

Believing in another Woods major win falls somewhere between likely and pipe dream, but it’s hard to discount after days like Thursday when times get tough and Woods just refuses to quit.

Isn’t that the most important lesson there is?

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