JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – When Tiger Woods was winning golf tournaments in spades, he was always considered by fans and peers to be like an unstoppable machine – mechanically perfect, competitive like a Terminator and unflappable. On Thursday at Atlanta Athletic Club, Woods looked like a machine in need of emergency repair.
Woods shot 7-over 77 in his first-round effort at the PGA Championship – his first round of major championship golf since April. While stunning in and of itself, even more astonishing is the manner in which Woods got to that number.
The world No. 30 started off great. He made three birdies in his first five holes, conjuring images of vintage Tiger. Then he stepped to the tee at the par-3 15th hole with a 4-iron in his hand. Riding high, Woods felt he could clear his mind.
Instead, it may have cleared his schedule for the weekend.
“Figured I was 3 under, so I could start letting go now. And it screwed up my whole round,” he said.
Woods said he had been thinking very mechanical thoughts throughout each of his swings en route to 3 under. Then Woods felt his swing was going well enough that he could play on feel alone. He was wrong.
“Apparently, I’m not at the point where I can do that yet,” he said.
The double-bogey at the 15th hole spurred on a meltdown of epic proportions. Woods played 10-over golf from the 15th onward, spraying the ball off of the tee, pulling and pushing shots. Given that this is a major championship he expected to be able to perform while focusing on the task of winning, not each golf shot.
“I’m in a major championship. It’s time to score, time to play, time to let it go,” he said.
Tiger has often complained that he has been playing “golf swing” instead of golf. Maybe he was better off doing that on Thursday. Woods found 13 bunkers on the round, with 11 of them coming after the 15th hole. He found two ponds – at 15 and a pull from the bunker at the short par-4 6th – and five fairways. Woods mustered nine greens on the day.
The 14-time major champion walks away from the round looking unlikely to be able to play the weekend. He will look to focus on gaining some measure of confidence before his afternoon second-round tee time, but from the sound of things, he will be overwhlemed with his homework assignment.
“It’s not just one change. It’s a lot of different things. … a laundry list,” he said.
Perhaps at the top of the list for Woods is figuring out how to work the golf ball again. He has repeatedly said these last two weeks that he has not been able to shape shots in the same way he has in the past. As a consequence, he was aiming at the wrong spots.
“I aimed left for a fade and it wouldn’t fade but a yard or two. My draws don’t come in as much as they used to. It’s harder for me to aim closer to flags, to hit it where I want to,” he explained.
Feeling like he does not know where the golf ball will go has to be frustrating, at a minimum. Tiger would have some more choice expletives to describe his play on Thursday.
“I’m not down. I’m really angry right now. There’s a lot of words I can use beyond that,” he said.