ORLANDO, Fla. – Tiger Woods is on the verge of something.
Not sure what, but he’s on the verge.
If Woods’ opening-round 69 Thursday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational is any indication, he could be on the verge of something special, or it could be something mediocre. Difficult to tell.
In a nutshell, Woods one-putted a par 5 for birdie, two-putted two par 5s for birdie and three-putted another par 5 for par. He made putts of 32 feet (No. 15) and 20 feet (No. 6) for birdie but missed putts of 5 feet at Nos. 4 and 17 to three-putt for bogey both times.
“It was a day I didn’t really do anything great,” said Woods, who is tied for fourth place, three shots behind co-leaders Jason Dufner and Charlie Wi. “I was just solid all day. I drove the ball well. Hit my irons decent and putted all right. It’s just one of those days where not a lot going on.”
Woods, a six-time winner here at Arnie’s Place, looked comfortable off the tee and never appeared to wince or act like his tender left Achilles was bothering him. Although the statistics say he only hit nine fairways, they are not a true indication of how well he played from the tee. There were irons off the tee, there were 3-wood stingers off the tee and there were monstrous blows with the driver. Most were impressive.
“I feel comfortable around here, hitting shots, shaping it,” Woods said.
The only time Woods hit an extremely wayward drive came on his third hole of the day – the par-5 12th – where he blew the ball right into some gnarly rough. But Woods reminded us of the old Tiger, the one who hits shots many can't envision, when he smoked a 3-wood onto the green from 269 yards and made one of the aforementioned two putts for birdie, although the eagle attempt from 45 feet hit the hole and bounced out.
Aside from the two short misses, Woods didn’t appear crisp with an iron in his hands from the fairway. He had 100 yards in on his opening hole (the 10th) and hit it to 45 feet. A hole later, he was 130 yards out and couldn’t get closer than 30 feet. On No. 3, Woods had 160 yards to the hole and ended up 40 feet. Two holes later he was inside 150 yards and the ball ended 36 feet from the hole. Not the type of stuff that wins 14 majors.
Hitting greens wasn’t the problem – Woods hit 14 of 18. Proximity to the hole was the issue, which led to 32 putts on the steamy day.
“Didn’t really hit any balls real close today,” he said, stating the obvious.
The most awkward moment of the round came on the par-5 16th hole, which Woods ultimately birdied. His drive leaked slightly right and found the fairway bunker. Woods was 210 yards to the hole with an iron in his hand and stopped in the middle of his downswing when a baby cooed off in the distance. The sound was not that loud, but Woods stopped, shook off the discontent, reset and blistered the approach to the back of the green.
When he makes any dramatic move, onlookers all take a collective gasp. In past years, it was neat to see Woods stop in the middle of a swing, now many people wonder if his body will hold together long enough to finish the rest of the hole.
The Achilles wasn’t an issue on this Central Florida day. Woods never stopped to stretch, never walked with a noticeable limp and always appeared to put determined effort into each shot. Earlier in the week, Woods said he played Augusta National on Sunday as a tune-up for the Tavistock Cup, which was a tune-up for Arnie’s Invite, which is the final tune-up for the Masters. All ailments appear to be a thing of the past.
“I’m just out there playing,” said Woods, who wolfed down lunch then worked with Sean Foley for an hour after the round. “I’m feeling good. I’ve been getting treatment. Everything’s good. No swelling. If I can just keep it that way, everything will be great.”