Tiger Woods looks rusty, misses multiple putts in opening round at The Northern Trust

Mark Konezny/USA TODAY Sports

Tiger Woods looks rusty, misses multiple putts in opening round at The Northern Trust

PGA Tour

Tiger Woods looks rusty, misses multiple putts in opening round at The Northern Trust

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JERSEY CITY, N.J. – There was reason for optimism on the 10th tee at Liberty National Golf Club on Thursday morning around 7:40. As Scott Piercy and J.T. Poston, the winner of last week’s Wyndham Championship, strolled from a small practice green to the tee box, the third player in their group stood waiting, loosely swinging a driver.

Tiger Woods did not hit a driver on this hole during his pro-am Wednesday at the Northern Trust. He didn’t make a full swing on any of the back-nine holes Wednesday and said that his back was stiff, yet there he was Thursday morning, rhythmically swinging his driver.

When it was his turn to hit, the 15-time major winner pasted a 306-yard drive to the left portion of the fairway, zipping the ball through the windless air. It landed on the rain-softened fairway and stopped quickly.

THE NORTHERN TRUST: Scores | Forward Press podcast | Photos

On the next hole, a 221-yard par-3, his iron shot landed 22 feet from the cup and he nearly made the birdie putt.

There was no wincing, no sign of stiffness or pain. Woods chatted with Piercy in the fairways and appeared very calm.

But after that relaxing start, which included two pars, Woods’ round fell apart.

He made a bogey on the 12th after his approach shot to the par 4 plugged in a greenside bunker, and while he reached the par-5 13th in two shots and made a tap-in birdie, he made a double-bogey on the 140-yard, par-3 14th after hitting his tee shot over the green and out of bounds.

Woods missed a 7-foot birdie putt on the 16th and then an 8-foot par putt on the 17th. He made the turn at 4 over (39), then birdied the first hole, but carelessly missed a 2-foot comebacker for par on the third hole.

At 12:17 p.m. ET, as Woods walked off the ninth green, his 75 put him in 63rd place among the 64 golfers who were on the course.

“I just didn’t play well. Just one of those things where I just didn’t hit any good shots and didn’t make any putts,” Woods said afterward. “Other than that, added up to a round that broke 80.”

The bottom line is Woods looked rusty. Since winning the Masters in April, he’s played only 12 competitive rounds and missed the cut at both the PGA Championship and the British Open. Woods said on Wednesday that he can’t practice as much as he’d like and does not practice nearly as much as he did in his prime.

As a result, he’s inconsistent. He hit some good tee shots on Thursday, including a 327-yard drive on 17 that was more than 45 yards longer than Piercy or Poston’s drives, but on a day when scoring conditions were ideal, the foundations of Woods’ game were unreliable. He lacked distance control with his irons and missed a lot of putts.

“We all knew it was soft out here with the rain last night. I knew I had to go get it, post a low one, and didn’t do it,” he said. “The greens are soft, the fairways are soft. You can play aggressively and not have any real ramifications for playing aggressive.”

Yet Tiger was never able to hit a series of good shots or run birdies together. Everything appeared to be a struggle, and while the thermometer showed the temperature was above 80 most of the morning and the air was humid, Woods’ putter was ice cold.

“It just feels frustrating to shoot anything high no matter how I feel,” he said. “We had the early tee time. We had the perfect greens and had to go out there and shoot something under par and get it going. (I) had to be, you know, 4-, 5-, 6-under par today, but I went the other way with it.”

The trouble is others took advantage of the warm, still air and soft conditions. Troy Merritt shot a 62 and Dustin Johnson shot 63. Kevin Kisner and Jon Rahm shot 64, so Woods was right, low scores were out there on Thursday.

If he is going to make the cut, Woods will have to do something special on Friday.

“I’m going to have to figure out a way to get this thing under par and hopefully move on and have a chance on the weekend,” he said. “But I’ve got to get into the red at the end of the day tomorrow for sure.”

For a rusty, inconsistent Woods, who will trail the leaders of the Northern Trust by a dozen shots going into the second round, getting under par may not be good enough to make the cut and play the weekend.

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