Woods shot a 3-over-par 75 Thursday on the first day at Whistling Straits, leaving him 10 strokes behind Darren Clarke and needing a good round Friday to avoid missing the cut in a major for the first time in his professional career.
'If I go ahead and just putt normally, I can shoot a good round and get back in the tournament,' Woods said. 'I didn't hit the ball that poorly, but I sure putted badly. All of the short putts I missed, and I just putted atrociously.'
Woods has been able to bounce back from bad opening rounds before -- sort of. Since winning the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage, Woods has not broken 70 in the first round of a major; he managed to make the cut each time -- but he hasn't won, a winless streak of nine consecutive majors.
Another round like Thursday's and it will be 10.
After practicing in Packer weather for three days on the 7,514-yard links-style lakeside layout, the players were prepared to be challenged on the longest course ever to host a major. But the sun came out and the winds died down for the opening round, and several tees had been moved up to cut 145 yards off the distance.
That gave the golfers a chance at low scores, and Clarke took advantage. But the No. 1 player in the world couldn't.
Always a big draw, Woods was matched with Vijay Singh and another crowd favorite, John Daly, guaranteeing huge galleries for the day. Woods and Singh started off with a birdie and headed into the par-5, 563-yard 11th hole with optimism.
'All three of the dudes you really want to see are right here,' one fan said as he waited for the group to tee off.
But the lovefest was soon over.
A photographer took a picture as Woods began his swing on the tee, forcing him to back off. Woods' caddie, Steve Williams, who kicked a photographer's camera lens at the U.S. Open, gave the shutter-clicker a stern rebuke but opted against a more serious confrontation.
Woods appeared to settle himself, but he duck-hooked his shot into the rough. When he tried to dig himself out, he put the ball back in the left rough, about 100 yards up, and his third shot went over the fairway and into the high grass on top of a hill on the right side.
From there, he chipped it over the hole and to the fringe on the far side of the green, then three-putted for a 7.
He three-putted on the par-3 12th to fall to 2 over. On No. 13, a par-4, he put his second shot into a bunker left of the green and saw his recovery roll off a knob on the green and end up 40 feet from the hole. From there, he two-putted for bogey.
'I got off to a nice start and then ran into a little bit of a problem there for a little bit,' Woods said.
Then he tried to change his luck with one swing on the par-4, 373-yard 14th hole.
After watching Singh play cautiously and hit an iron into a trap, Woods climbed a hill beside the tee to try to catch a glimpse of the flag. When he came back down, Woods pulled out his driver and let it rip; the ball bounced about 6 yards short of the green and rolled on.
Woods, back at the tee, was still unable to see what had happened, but he didn't need to. The cheer that came from the green told him all he needed to know.
Two putts for a birdie brought him back to 2 over. But Woods wasn't able to generate any momentum.
He strung together four consecutive pars, then bogeyed No. 1. He birdied the second and the fourth holes but gave those strokes back on Nos. 6 and 7, lipping out on the latter to fall to 3 over.
'You can get it going here, there's no doubt about that,' he said. 'The greens are soft, the balls are holding and if you're hitting the ball well you can get the ball in there close. ... You can be aggressive.'
He'll have to be aggressive on Friday or he won't be listening to any more talk about his winless streak in majors this weekend.
Or his record of making 127 consecutive cuts on tour.
He won't be around to hear it.
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