CHARLOTTE, N.C. – This week is all about control for Tiger Woods.
Control the message. Control the medium. Control the media. Control the misses.
Despite an opening 71 Thursday at Quail Hollow that left him six shots off the pace set by Webb Simpson, Stewart Cink and Ryan Moore, Woods never lost sight of the process.
He began the week unlike ever before when he opted to use social media to field questions from fans instead of a pre-tournament interview with the media. The Tiger camp assured us it wasn’t a knock on us typing types, rather a way to directly connect with fans.
In truth, it was Woods’ way to control the message, the medium and the media.
After three weeks off from competitive play, Woods was hoping to control the fourth ‘m’ as well, but opened his round with a miss.
“I bogeyed the first hole, so there goes that idea,” Woods said. “You try and build, try and find a rhythm in the round.”
His miss at the first was easily made up for when he birdied the second.
From there, Woods took his regulator role from earlier in the week and applied it to his execution and etiquette on the course.
It was a lackluster 18 compared to that of Woods’ playing partner Simpson, whose round included a chip-in eagle at the eighth and a 62-foot putt for birdie at the 12th. Woods’ round included three bogeys and four birdies. It was neither electrifying nor erratic. Woods never lost his composure nor found his rhythm.
But the one thing Woods did have all round was control. His misses were slight; his makes were simple.
Woods hit driver five times Thursday and found the fairway with it only once, on the par-5 10th. But the only time his driver cost him a shot was at the par-4 ninth; it was his only 'big miss' of the day. He came up and out of the shot, flared it right and immediately let go of the club, looking down in disgust. When his second shot caught a low-hanging tree branch and advanced only 30 yards, he was unable to save the par, making his third and final bogey of the day.
Woods found his footing on the back nine, recording seven pars and two birdies.
“I did play good on the back,” Woods said. “I gave up too many shots on the front nine.”
The shots Woods was referring to were a missed birdie opportunity on the par-5 fifth and a few approach shots that left him short-sided with little room for error in his chips.
His ball-striking was for the most part solid, but he failed to convert pars on more than one occasion where he had tough chips and bad breaks.
Still, no miss was too far gone that he couldn’t recover and his attitude was never so strained that he lost composure.
In fact, Woods was quite jovial all day and often laughed and joked with caddie Joe LaCava, Simpson and Simpson’s caddie.
“We’re all friends,” Woods said. “ Webby I’ve gotten to know because of the Presidents Cup. We had a good time out there.”
The last time Woods played with Simpson was brief but memorable. They were paired in the final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral where Woods withdrew after 11 holes, citing tightness in his Achilles. It was a day that stuck with Simpson.
“We went from 10,000 people every hole to zero people,” Simpson recalled with a laugh.
Woods was among 79 players under par in the first round of the Wells Fargo, but stands T-56.
''I've got to obviously not make those little mistakes like that tomorrow,'' Woods said. ''We've got a long way to go, and we've got some rain coming probably on the weekend, so we're going to have to go get it.''
As long as Woods contains his misses for the remainder of the week, his ending may be well within his control. And if that’s the case, we all know what that message looks like.