WINDERMERE, Fla. – Tiger Woods’ swing looked fine in his first competitive round in nearly four months.
His short game was another matter.
Playing for the first time since the PGA Championship, Woods swung aggressively with his longer clubs but was undone the closer he got to the green. The result was a 5-over 77 that left him last – by four shots – in the 18-man, unofficial event at his old home course at Isleworth. He is 11 shots behind Jordan Spieth.
“Today, it was weird,” Woods said afterward. “I didn’t feel like I hit it that bad. My short game was awful, and I didn’t make anything.”
Woods stubbed four chip shots en route to his worst-ever score in this event. The short-game sloppiness wasn’t from a lack of practice – he was quick to note that he has a nice practice area in his backyard in Jupiter – but rather he struggled to adapt to the stickier, grainier grass around the greens.
“It certainly is surprising that I could hit chips that poorly,” he said. “Just flubbed them.”
Woods’ day began with an out-of-bounds tee shot, and it didn’t get much better from there. He bogeyed the tough second hole, blew an opportunity on the par-5 seventh after leaving his third shot in a bunker, and then made a mess of No. 8, when his tee ball came to rest near a fence, his next shot ricocheted off a tree and then he stubbed a chip from behind the green on his way to a double-bogey 6.
Following a kick-in birdie on 12, he hit two of his best shots of the day on the par-5 13th, but his ball caught a ridge and trickled all the way off the green, into a low area. He caught his third shot fat, the ball rolling back to his feet, and then hit an identical shot with his next attempt. What looked like a possible eagle attempt had turned into a bogey.
The struggles continued on 17, when he was greenside in two but stubbed anotherpitch shot. He blasted his fourth shot to the back edge and was fortunate to walk off with par.
In all, Woods managed just one birdie on a day when he hit eight of 14 fairways and 11 greens.
“I didn’t hit it that poorly,” he said. “Just got nothing out of it, obviously. Bad chips. Bad putts.”
After missing the cut at the PGA Championship, Woods shut it down to rest his ailing back and reevaluate his game. He parted ways with swing coach Sean Foley, slimmed down in the gym and began working with a new consultant, Chris Como. This was his first competitive round in 119 days.
Given the layoff, his long game was encouraging in the opening round, particularly the speed and power with which he hit his driver. But Woods said that he’s also working on a different motion with his short shots, with a different release pattern. It was clear Thursday that plenty of work remains.
If there is any positive to take away from the opening round, it is that Woods emerged healthy.
“I have zero pain,” he said. “I haven’t said that in a long time.”