ATLANTA – It's hard to say where it all went wrong for Tiger Woods on Thursday.
Was it missing a short birdie attempt on the opening hole that started his downward spiral? Was it the careless three-putt on the par-5 ninth that left him muttering to himself all the way to the 10th tee? Was it the approach on 12 that stopped short of the green? Or the one on 14 that bounced right over?
Maybe what went wrong on Thursday didn't even happen on Thursday.
Maybe what went wrong on Thursday happened on Wednesday, when Woods eschewed hitting a single full shot in advance of the Tour Championship, instead rolling a few putts and receiving treatment in the fitness trailer before leaving East Lake Golf Club for the day.
Maybe what went wrong on Thursday happened a few weeks ago, when he tweaked his back, necessitating the aforementioned treatment.
Or maybe what went wrong on Thursday cant be explained away as any singular instance on the course or lack of preparation or physical setback.
Heres what we do know: It did indeed go wrong for Woods on Thursday.
Utterly, unmistakably wrong.
In the opening round of the Tour Championship, clinging to the top spot in the FedEx Cup standings, Woods posted a 3-over 73. That score doesnt sound so bad until you realize it was his worst number on this course in 15 years and left him in 29th place ' out of 30 players. He failed to card a birdie for just the seventh time in his PGA Tour professional career and just the fourth time in a non-major event. He lost to his playing partner, Henrik Stenson, by nine strokes.
We may have witnessed more things go wrong for Woods on the course at various other times in recent years, but this was clearly a day when absolutely nothing went right.
Afterward, he declined all interview requests to speak about the round.
It can leave our collective minds wandering as to what the problem was on this day.
There were a few slight winces and a couple of stretching exercises on the course, but hardly anything that would have suggested he was in immense physical pain.
There were a handful of shaky tee shots and approaches, but they were mixed with plenty of sublime shots where the ball succumbed to his very wishes.
If theres one bright red flag, it was his icy cold putter, which needed 34 strokes on familiar greens that have twice seen him win this tournament and four times finish runner-up. But even that fact only renders more questions. Was it from a lack of pre-tournament preparation? Did he expect them to be faster? Slower? Is there an imperfection in his putting routine?
Stenson, who vaulted into a one-stroke lead over Adam Scott based on his 6-under 64, had a front-row seat for Woods foibles and offered the following explanation after the round.
Obviously, frustrating on the greens, he said. He didn't make a birdie out there. That's very unusual. I wouldn't say he was playing bad, but, you know, it's one of those days. Missed a couple of times in the wrong spot and made bogeys on three occasions, I think, then.
I mean, if you're not making any birdies, then it's going to be a bad day, simple as that. On a good day, you might make one or two up and downs and then roll a couple in. We know how small the margins are. He could have been 2 under or 1 under with the same play if you just take your opportunities. Certain days, it just doesn't work out for you.
This was one of those days for Woods, but it shouldnt leave anyone screaming that the sky is falling.
He didnt play well, but as Stenson mentioned, he easily could have been a few strokes under par had some of those putts dropped into the hole.
He dropped to third in the projected FedEx Cup standings, but that is hardly a foregone conclusion with 54 holes remaining.
His presumed clutch on the Player of the Year award didnt lessen at all, those five victories still trumping everyone elses accomplishments and certainly outweighing one poor round at East Lake.
Of course, theres still time for Woods to pull everything together. Still time for him to figure out whatever was wrong on Wednesday, whether that was an ailing back or a lack of preparation on the greens or a flaw in his putting stroke.
Yes, it's hard to say where it all went wrong for Woods on Thursday. But its even harder to say how hell rebound from this round and perform over the next three important days.