FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – The mistakes came early and often for Tiger Woods Thursday in the first round of the PGA Championship. Drives missed the fairway. Wedges flew the green. Short putts didn’t fall. April’s spectacular steadiness gave way to May’s ugly uncertainty, and after five hours on the golf course, Tiger was a stunning nine shots behind playing partner and leader Brooks Koepka.
The Masters this was not. Tiger’s dream of winning a second consecutive major title is not officially over, but it’s not exactly alive and well either. Back to reality, everyone.
“I could have been a little bit better today,” Tiger said afterward. “I left a few shots out there. I wasn’t very clean today, and consequently I’m a long way back.”
Woods, 43, hadn’t hit a competitive shot in 31 days, since his final putt on April 14 at Augusta National, and when he finally hit one Thursday, the rust showed. His opening drive on Bethpage Black’s behemoth No. 10, his first hole of the day, missed the fairway and found the right rough — thick, deep, wet grass. Real rough, not the lovely carpet rolled out annually by Augusta National.
What came next was nothing but trouble. Tiger gave the ball a whack to get back to the fairway, but his wedge to the hole went over the back of the green and he eventually missed a 5-foot bogey putt, settling for double.
Uh, oh. In 72 holes at the Masters, Woods didn’t have even one double bogey. At the PGA, he accomplished the feat in his first hole. The tone of his day was set. It was going to be a struggle.
SCORES: PGA Championship leaderboard
Tiger birdied the 15th hole, his sixth of the day, but then ran right into another wall with another double bogey on the par-3 17th. His 6-iron came up short and dropped into one of the five bunkers surrounding the green, plugging up against the face.
“We get down there and there’s no sand, just rocks,” he said. “It was just bizarre.”
All that Masters good fortune was slowly fading away. Four strokes later, Tiger left the 17th with a disheartening 5. He was 3 over par after eight holes.
Who saw this coming? How about nearly everyone? Tiger hadn’t shown up at the course at all Wednesday, and now you had to wonder if something was up. He admitted after the round that he “got a little bit sick” and “decided to stay home” Wednesday but felt “good” Thursday.
Back to golf. Just when things were looking their bleakest, along came a Tiger sugar rush. In four holes, he went 4 under par. He birdied the first and second holes, then sank a 34-foot putt for eagle on the par-5 fourth hole, and all of a sudden, the New York crowds were roaring and he was 1 under par, four strokes behind Koepka.
“I felt like I was getting back into the round,” Tiger said. “I fought my way back and I had two double bogeys in there and was still able to get it to under par for the day.”
That didn’t last. Woods fell apart in the final five holes, bogeying three of them. There was a three-putt bogey on No. 5, another three-putt bogey on No. 7 and a bad chip from the fringe on the par-3 eighth.
“Unfortunately,” he said, “I just didn’t keep it together at the end.”
It would be foolhardy to count Tiger out of any tournament at this point, but he’s not exactly in the mix in this one right now either. He wasn’t terrible, but he certainly wasn’t great. It was the first round of the rest of his post-Masters life, nothing more, nothing less.