CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Tiger Woods delivered a few memorable shots of his own Thursday at Quail Hollow on a pleasant day that produced birdies and eagles and plenty of excitement.
It’s just not what he had in mind.
He hit a tee shot into the water on the par-3 17th that produced little reaction except to hold out his hand for another ball. He hit his next tee shot into the water and had to scramble for bogey. And he wound up with a 2-over 74 that left him nine shots behind Bo Van Pelt and ended his streak of 21 straight rounds at par or better.
“I hit a bunch of balls left, I hit a bunch of balls right, hit a few down the middle,” Woods said. “And that was about it.”
For everyone else – Masters champion Phil Mickelson included with his 70 – there was so much more.
Mickelson had a severe stomach ailment that forced him to withdraw from the pro-am Wednesday, and he started feeling it when he climbed the steep hill to the 15th green. He two-putted for birdie to reach 4 under for his round, only to three-putt from the fringe on the 17th and made another bogey from the trees on the 18th.
“I may have run out of energy there toward the end, but I hit some good shots and was able to shoot a decent round,” Mickelson said.
Van Pelt is using an old putter that he had refurbished, and he already got strong results in Hilton Head two weeks ago with a tie for third, his best finish of the year. The opening round of the Quail Hollow Championship was even better, as Van Pelt made birdie on all the par 5s and made it through the tough closing stretch with all pars.
Kenny Perry shot a 66 and didn’t let the finish ruin his day. After a flawless shot into 8 feet for eagle on the par-5 seventh, he hit his drive 35 yards short of the green on the par-4 eighth and had an open angle at the pin. But he didn’t commit to the delicate wedge, and the ball rolled back to his feet. That turned potential birdie – and the outright lead – into a bogey.
“One little blunder,” Perry said. “But it was a fun round of golf. It’s been a long time since I’ve played like that.”
Camilo Villegas played bogey-free for a 67, while the group at 68 featured a collection of players that included former U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy, Monday qualifier Billy Mayfair and Brad Faxon, who has made only two cuts this year while spending time working for NBC Sports.
“When you start trending like I did with a 74th-place finish last week, you could see this coming,” Faxon said, laughing.
Woods hasn’t played enough to detect any trends, although this would count as a step backward with his golf. He was coming off a tie for fourth in the Masters, his first competition in five months, in which he broke par all four rounds for the first time at Augusta National.
In his second tournament since his hiatus from being caught in a web of infidelity – the first one with tickets available to the general public – the applause was loud and genuine, with nothing remotely close to heckling.
Trouble was, Woods didn’t give thousands of fans who braved chilly morning weather much to applaud.
There was that opening birdie on the par-5 10th. There also were the two shots into the water, four shots into or close to the trees, and the wrong club on his last hole that sent the ball well over the ninth green for one last bogey.
It was his highest opening round at a regular PGA Tour event since he shot 75 at The Players Championship three years ago. Woods kept his cool on the golf course, but he was in no mood to find a fix when he was done with his round.
“I’m not going to the range today,” he said. “Hell with it.”
It was a wasted opportunity, and Woods knew it. Quail Hollow is among the top courses on the PGA Tour – most players believe it’s as close as any to a major championship – yet there was little defense under warm sunshine and very little wind.
The course played to an average score of 73.25, with 14 players shooting in the 60s and 66 players at par or better.
Van Pelt would not have guessed that, certainly not from what he saw earlier in the week with the fairways firm and the greens running as fast as they ever have.
“The greens have so much slope and they’re so fast,” Van Pelt said. “You can hit it in there close and you’re just trying to two-putt. It’s pretty tricky around the hole. I just tried to take advantage of the opportunities I had, and this is one of those golf courses where if it’s going good, you’d better try to get it. Because it can jump up and grab you in a heartbeat.”
It did that to Woods.
The world’s No. 1 player returns Friday with hopes of sticking around. It has been five years since he missed a cut in a regular PGA Tour event.