PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Tiger Woods is still formidable when he’s back home at the Medalist in South Florida.
Rickie Fowler sees it when they play together there.
“He’s got it,” Fowler said. “I would say he’s probably a little freer at home. It’s just kind of him and his golf cart and clubs. If he’s able to get that feeling a little more out here, that’s where he might gain the most.”
If Woods doesn’t get that feeling Friday at The Players Championship, he may be free to return to Medalist for the weekend.
This week marks Woods’ 260th PGA Tour start as a pro. Over the 15 years those starts cover, he has never missed back-to-back cuts, but he has lots of work to do to avoid his first double-cut whammy.
With a sluggish 2-over-par 74 Thursday, Woods likely needs a round in the 60s to make the weekend and avoid setting off another firestorm of speculation over what’s wrong with his game just seven weeks after he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Woods finished the day tied for 100th. The low 70 and ties make the cut.
Woods has never missed the cut at The Players, and despite his slow start, he wasn’t fretting the possibility.
“Just one of those days,” Woods said. “Just today.”
While Woods showed some frustration after poor shots during the first round, he was as calm as a Buddhist monk after the round.
His reaction to his inability to take some good ball-striking on Thursday morning from the range to the course?
“Just be patient with it,” Woods said. “Just keep plugging along. Obviously, in the last few months, I’ve put together some good rounds, won a couple tournaments. So, it’s there.”
Woods has missed just eight cuts in his career, never more than two in a season.
Fowler, who broke through to win the Wells Fargo Championship for his first PGA Tour title last weekend, played with Woods for the first time in a PGA Tour event on Thursday. It didn’t feel like a first, though.
“We played practice rounds together at the Ryder Cup,” Fowler said. “I’m around him quite a lot at Medalist. I look at him as just another one of the guys because of the time we’ve spent at Medalist. It definitely helped me, as opposed to if this had been the first time I ever played with him.”
Fowler shot 72 with Hunter Mahan matched Tiger’s 74 in their threesome, but Fowler felt as if he and Woods played similarly.
“We were up and down,” Fowler said.
Woods’ ball-striking wasn’t sharp. He hit seven of 14 fairways, though he avoided those maddening big misses. He used his driver just six times, and it behaved fairly well. He hit three fairways with it. Woods hit just nine greens in regulation. His wedge play was spotty, and he came up just short and just long with approaches. He took 28 putts.
In a recurring concern, Woods made birdie at just one of the par 5s. He is 113th in par-5 performance on Tour this season. Woods was at a loss to explain his inability to take advantage of the longest holes.
“I don’t know,” Woods said. “For some reason, it’s just one of those weird deals. Out here, you have to take care of the par 5s. I haven’t done a very good job of it. I really haven’t. I need to do a better job of that.”
The sluggish start leaves Woods with an uphill climb Friday in his bid to make the weekend.