DUBLIN, Ohio – In honor of this week’s Scripps National Spelling Bee we offer the following assessment of Round 1 at the Memorial – U-N-C-H-A-R-A-C-T-E-R-I-S-T-I-C.
Or how about U-N-F-U-L-F-I-L-L-E-D.
Perhaps even U-N-E-V-E-N-T-F-U-L.
All would sum up the world Nos. 1 and 2’s opening efforts at Muirfield Village, although for vastly different reasons.
For Tiger Woods, his opening 71 was a collection of missed opportunities. He bogeyed his last hole from the middle of the fairway, played the par 5s in even par and answered every birdie he made on the back nine (Nos. 11, 14 and 17) with a bogey (Nos. 12, 15 and 18).
Call it the reverse bounce back.
“It was probably the highest I could have shot,” Woods said. “I didn’t make anything today.”
Rory McIlroy probably felt the say way, although in retrospect his first-round 78 could have been worse given the way the Ulsterman hit the ball. The world No. 2 four-putted his third hole of the day (No. 12), turned in 40 and made just two birdies.
“I don’t really have many explanations for this,” said McIlroy of his highest score on the PGA Tour since a third-round 79 at the Masters. “I felt my game was good. I felt like I was coming in here and hitting the ball well.”
At least Woods knew what he needed to work on. McIlroy’s game seemed dysfunctional to the extreme.
Woods also has history on his side at Muirfield Village. He was four strokes back and tied for 11th after an opening 70 last year at Jack’s place and won by two strokes.
So forgive him if his 1-under card, which left him tied for 27th, didn’t cause a panic. Truth is, if Woods spent Thursday night searching for answers he likely only found a single fix – read the greens better.
“I thought I hit good putts, just misread a couple of putts badly like at (Nos.) 13 and 18,” said Woods, who is vying for his fifth title of 2013.
That simple fix, however, did little to help a bruised ego.
When he was reminded that he was outplayed by his 53-year-old playing partner Fred Couples (2-under 70) Woods playfully shot back, “He kicked my ass.” A moment later another scribe added that he was also clipped by 14-year-old Chinese amateur Guan Tianlang (who was 2 under at the time, but bogeyed two of his final three holes), Woods deadpanned: “Great. Have a good one guys.”
And off he went, not to the practice tee or even the putting green which suggested that there was nothing wrong with Woods on Day 1 that dinner and a good night’s sleep couldn’t fix.
It was a different day at Muirfield Village, which normally plays soft and slow as a result of spring rains. But this week the sprawling ballpark is running fast, at least by Memorial standards, as evidenced by Woods’ decision to hit just a single driver on Thursday.
“We don’t play the course like this very often,” said Couples, who will captain the U.S. Presidents Cup team at Muirfield Village this fall. “It was very fast and there were a lot of 3-woods (off the tee).”
McIlroy had no such silver lining.
Just when it appeared the Northern Irishman had rediscover the form that delivered PGA Tour Player of the Year honors in 2012 and his second major title, he signs for a 78 and found himself clear of just six players in the Memorial field.
McIlroy’s putting was poor, his iron play was sloppy and his driving erratic, not a good combination with the U.S. Open and Merion looming a fortnight away.
“The game just isn’t all there at the minute,” said McIlroy, who needed 33 putts on Day 1.
In short, neither of the world’s top two players performed as expected, although Woods’ performance seemed downright serviceable compared to McIlroy’s repeated missteps.
“He didn’t play great, but he still hit good shots,” Couples said of Woods. “He could have easily been 3, 4 under.”
Statistics support Couples’ analysis. Considering the afternoon conditions, which featured wind gusts to 15 mph and greens that grew crusty in the afternoon sun, Woods was solid, hitting 13 of 18 greens in regulation and 11 of 14 fairways.
Put another way, Woods’ quest for his sixth Memorial tilt remains undaunted. That’s U-N-D-A-U-N-T-E-D. While McIlroy’s chances of just playing the weekend appeared downright unrealistic. That’s U-N-R-E-A-L-I-S-T-I-C.