Tiger Woods, the grinder is still quite a talent.
Woods was perilously close to falling out of the year’s final major after a horrific first two holes, but he would rebound with four birdies to fire a respectable even-par 70 on Day 1 at the PGA Championship.
When he reached the clubhouse at Bellerive, Woods was five back and in a tie for 28th. He will certainly take that considering how much worse this could’ve been.
If there’s a blueprint for how not to start a major championship, Woods provided it with an opening triple bogey from the middle of the fairway at this year’s U.S. Open.
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He did a good job trying to emulate that at the PGA Championship.
Woods got off to another horrific start in a major early Thursday, as he hit a wayward driver right at the par-4 10th, was forced to lay up and had a good two-putt just to produce an opening bogey. And then it would get worse.
His approach shot from the left rough at the par-4 11th came up short and bounded into the water. That led to a double bogey and pushed him quickly to 3 over just 30 minutes into the round.
Shades of that disastrous start leading to a missed cut – as seen at the U.S. Open – were there already. But this wasn’t going to be a repeat.
Woods changed his shirt on the par-4 12th and his mojo appeared to return. He proceeded to spin an approach to a foot, leaving him a desperately needed kick-in birdie to move to 2 over.
More trouble soon followed when an errant drive and approach at the par-4 15th left him a brutally difficult 69-yard third shot from a bare spot in the left rough with overhanging trees to a tucked left pin at a poor angle.
Somehow, he fashioned a wedge that just caught the green in front of that pin and rolled 5 feet beyond the cup. He was rewarded on the brilliant recovery by draining the putt for an otherworldly par.
A bogey followed at the next after a horrible hook off the tee at the par 3, and he was back to 3 over again.
He then dumped a wedge in a front bunker at the par-5 17th and was in danger of dropping to 4 over. But once again he used his recovery skills, blasting out 5 feet beyond the hole and draining the putt for par.
His swing had been out of whack and little was working, but Woods was battling to avoid the round getting out of hand.
It proved fruitful when Woods lasered an approach 4 feet beyond the flag at the par-4 18th and cleaned up the birdie putt to go out in 2-over 37.
Another fine approach at the par-4 first left him 10 feet under the hole for back-to-back birdies. He buried that and suddenly was back to 1 over.
Woods had stabilized and fought from there to ensure he would successfully battle back from a rough start.
His swing appeared to significantly turn around in that stretch, as the errant shots started disappearing and he even got a couple of drivers in the fairway. Still, his expert scrambling continued to keep him afloat, as he got up and down from tricky spots at Nos. 4 and 6 to stay 1 over.
Another up and down came at the par-5 eighth, this time for birdie. When he drained the 10-footer there, he had magically got all the way back to even par after that horrific start.
A closing two-putt allowed him officially to escape that horrid opening.
This was not a banner day for Woods’ game, especially in the ball-striking department. But his work around the greens was spectacular (combined with a steady putter) and he put himself in good position through 18 holes despite clearly not having his best stuff.
Woods can’t play like this for four days and win at Bellerive, but he did a fantastic job of not shooting himself out of the tournament on this trying day.
If his game starts to get back into the form that saw him in the lead at Carnoustie last month, then he’ll be in really good shape to contend here.
But none of these possibilities would be open without such a strong fight back from the brink on Thursday.