Keeping Score

Already 9 back, Woods must play catchup

Tiger Woods got Tiger Woods-ed in the 101st PGA Championship’s opening round here Thursday. Tiger Woods-ed? Isn’t that what you call it when the best player in the game shoots a demoralizingly low score in a major championship’s first round?

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – Tiger Woods got Tiger Woods-ed in the 101st PGA Championship’s opening round here Thursday.

Tiger Woods-ed? Isn’t that what you call it when the best player in the game shoots a demoralizingly low score in a major championship’s first round? You know, one of those stunning, take-it-deep rounds that leaves the rest of the field reeling and trying not to think, Uh-oh, not again, or, even worse: It’s over. Hand him the trophy, already.

Tiger Woods, PGA
In his first competitive round since he won the Masters, Tiger Woods struggles to a 2-over 72 at the PGA.

That’s exactly what happened at Bethpage State Park’s Black Course on a second straight sunny day. Except Woods wasn’t the one delivering the ominous news to his intimidated competitors this time. He was on the receiving end, a role reversal usually reserved for “Undercover Boss.”

The five-time Masters champion made two double bogeys, an eagle and shot a disappointing 2-over 72. That left him nine shots behind the leader, Brooks Koepka, whose 63 tied the lowest score in PGA Championship history (scores).

It’s just one day, of course. As former Players champion Rickie Fowler cautioned, “The tournament cannot be won on Thursday and Friday. But you can put yourself in a hole.”

Fowler shot 69. All he did was put a little orange sidespin on an old golf saying, but Koepka’s start may put this golf cliché to the test. Remember that he held off Woods in August, winning the 2018 PGA by two strokes.

Woods, meanwhile, did, indeed, put himself in a hole, especially considering whom he’s chasing. His quest for major championship No. 16 isn’t down for the count after one round, but it is down on the mat, with eyes glazed. This wasn’t how his miracle comeback story was supposed to continue following his epic Masters victory five weeks ago.

A subdued Woods discussed what went wrong. “Well, the golf course is playing tough,” he said. “You know, I felt like it's not that hard to make bogeys out here, but it's hard to make birdies.”

Two things stuck out. One was that Woods scrapped a scheduled nine-hole practice round Wednesday. The official word was that he was fine and simply needed a little rest. Thursday, Woods conceded that he came down sick and decided not to play the course. Did he feel all right Thursday? Yes, he said, but he looked low on energy – that’s the opposite of “all right” – on the first nine and walked with sagging shoulders.

Late in the round, when he bogeyed three of the last five holes to negate a heck of a comeback, he appeared to run out of gas. Did the unspecified illness – Zika virus? Malaria? Allergies? – sap some of his stamina? Discuss among yourselves and get back to me.

The second notable problem was having to start on the 10th hole. It is one of the Black’s toughest holes, a long par 4 with a 240-yard carry over a deep fescue area to the fairway. Because the 10th tee is nowhere near the clubhouse, players had to take shuttles to get to the tee, which is on the far end of the expansive property.

Players were told to allow 25 minutes to reach the 10th tee. Which meant Woods and his group needed to leave at about 8 o’clock for their 8:24 tee time. Players commonly warm up on the practice range first, then chip and/or putt for 15-30 minutes before their normal first tee shot. Because of the travel time, that meant Woods might not have hit a full shot for upwards of 45 minutes before he teed off on No. 10.

Factor in his curious history of wayward opening shots and a tee shot that flared right and just into the rough was not a shocker. It wasn’t all that bad of a shot, but he drew a thick lie in Bethpage Black’s industrial-strength rough and had to lay up. From there, he botched a wedge shot, hitting it over the green, and was unable to get up and down to save bogey.

Plenty of players struggled with No. 10. Thomas Pieters triple-bogeyed it. The players who began Round 1 at the 10th played the hole in a combined 46 over par. There probably is no good time to play No. 10, but right out of the gate, cold, must be the worst time.

“Any time you have a 500-yard par 4, they’re not holes you look forward to, especially when it’s your first hole of the day,” Fowler said. “Ten is a lot easier as the 10th hole. You know where your game stands. You know how you’re driving the ball. I would prefer it to be my 10th hole, but regardless, you just want to make 4 and walk away.”

Woods watched Koepka sink a long birdie putt there and found himself three back after one hole. Woods settled down with four straight pars and then a birdie at the 15th. After that, he plugged his approach shot in a bunker face at the par-3 17th and made another double bogey.

He battled back with birdies at Nos. 1 and 2, then eagled No. 4, the course’s uphill par-5 signature hole. But he slipped coming in, giving back three of those four strokes that he had gained.

The big question ultimately was whether Woods still felt ill, simply was drained from that Masters victory, maybe a bit rusty or just made a few costly small mistakes at a very unforgiving course.

“It puts a premium on hitting the ball in the fairway,” he said. “When I had opportunities with short irons, I was able to get the ball in there relatively close. Otherwise, I hit a lot of 4- and 5-irons, and it was hard to get the ball close.

“I felt like I was getting back into the round. I fought my way back. I had a couple of three-putts and a bad chip there at 8 and left myself in a bad spot. Unfortunately, I just didn't keep it together at the end.”

Except for Koepka and a small handful of others, Bethpage Black was the clear winner in Round 1. Woods gets another crack at the course this afternoon. He’ll be the one trying to dig out of that hole.

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: gvansick@aol.com; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle


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