PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Tiger Woods joked about that infield pop-up he hit off the seventh tee.
The one that barely reached the fairway in the first round of The Players Championship.
The chop that looked more like a man trying to kill a cockroach with a shovel than the swing of the world’s No. 1 player.
“Hit it straight up in the air,” Woods said. “Probably could have caught it.”
The shot didn’t even cover 200 yards, requiring Woods to hit another wood to reach a relatively short par 4, by a PGA Tour pro’s standard.
“Do you recall the last time you had to hit two woods on a par 4?” he was asked.
“Last week,” he said of his missed cut at Quail Hollow. “Hit some bad shots last week.”
The message came through loud and clear after Woods signed for a 2-under-par 70, tying him for 37th at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course. If Woods isn’t fretting about his swing and the state of his game, why is everyone else? And it must seem like everyone if you’re in Woods’ camp.
The day before this championship, NBC analyst Johnny Miller made news saying Woods needed to dump his swing coach, Hank Haney, and return to the swing that won him those four consecutive majors almost 10 years ago. Later in the day, Butch Harmon, who oversaw that swing, said he watched Woods hit balls on the range Wednesday and that it was clear his game was in disarray. He said if he were still part of Woods’ team, he would advise Woods to get some professional help to get his head straight before he worked on fixing his swing.
It’s enough to make a player wonder if he ought to be playing for strait jackets instead of green jackets.
Everyone take a deep breath. Everyone calm down.
Woods didn’t use those words, but his demeanor and mood suggested as much.
Woods was pleased with his round, decidedly encouraged.
After missing the cut last week at the Quail Hollow Championship, this was progress he was happy about.
“This is a huge event,” Woods said. “I’ve felt like I’ve done some good work this week, even though reports were that I was hitting it all over the lot. I was working on a few things. I was very comfortable with what I was working toward, and I was very excited about what was happening. It was just a matter of doing it in competition, and I did it today.”
Woods, after all, has never looked better than he did Thursday.
Never in the first round of The Players Championship.
His score equaled his lowest to start this event.
Woods wasn’t perfect, but he hit nine fairways and 14 greens in regulation. Yeah, the course didn’t play as wickedly difficult as it can. The first-round scoring average was the lowest in almost two decades. This is architect Pete Dye’s handiwork, and it will expose whatever’s wrong with a player’s game. Thursday might have set up as a day where a player could almost fake it around here, but there’s no faking it for 72 holes, not even 36.
Pat Perez said Woods found a fix at the back of the driving range after his practice round Tuesday. It didn’t look like it when Woods pulled his opening drive Thursday dead left into the trees. Or when he popped up that drive at the seventh. Or when he pulled his final tee shot left into the water to spoil his chances at his first bogey-free round on this track . . . OK, Woods isn’t sharp with his swing. He might not be able to win yet with this swing, but he’s back to the mindset that’s always got him there. Whenever he’s struggled in the past, he’s religiously insisted that he’s close, that he’s right there on the edge of finding his best form. We aren’t hearing that yet, but . . .
“I’ve played six competitive rounds in about seven months, so it’s one of those things where it takes time to get into the rhythm of competing and it takes tournaments,” Woods said. “And I haven’t had a lot of tournaments under my belt.”
Woods could lose his No. 1 ranking this week if Phil Mickelson wins, but it should be noted that Woods hasn’t really played much in the two-year rolling period that constitutes the ranking. He’s been inactive for 15 months, but he’s active now.
“I was building toward this,” Woods said of his recent work. “Felt like I was headed in the right direction for today.”
So let’s all take a deep breath.