PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – It is difficult to make any major declarations following one round of golf by one elite professional golfer. Difficult and ambitious and often problematic. Each individual round can offer signs of optimism and pessimism; it can provide a brief window into what the short-term future may hold for that player.
By and large, though, the most natural thing to say about a singular 18-hole stretch of golf – to borrow a favorite phrase from the player whose opening round is about to be scrutinized – is that “it is what it is.” Once in a while, though, a pro will get away with a score that’s better than he deserved, just as there are times when he’ll be burdened by a score that undermines his performance.
And therein lies the most important aspect that can be gleaned from Tiger Woods’ opening round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
It left cause for encouragement.
Such hopefulness doesn’t necessarily stem from the 11 of 14 fairways he found at Spyglass Hill – and one of those three that he missed was only six inches from the short stuff.
It doesn’t come from the 14 of 18 greens in regulation that he hit, executing near-perfect distance control for the first nine holes before a few loose swings got the best of him on the back.
It doesn’t even originate from the 4-under 68 score that he posted on Thursday, which left him five shots off the overall tournament lead, but gave him the fourth-best score on the traditionally toughest track in the event’s three-course rotation.
No, the biggest reason for optimism occurred after the round, when Woods explained that his solid, steady round left him feeling … frustrated.
If you’re flummoxed as to why feeling frustrated should be cause for optimism from Woods, you clearly haven’t been paying attention during the first 17 years of his professional career.
He has always been a classic example of contradiction. When he plays poorly, Woods excuses himself with tales of bad breaks and putts that just somehow didn’t seem to drop. When he plays well, though, he often explains that he “left a few out there” and displays irritation for not posting a lower score.
The latter was the case after his first round in a PGA Tour-sanctioned event this season – and it should be seen as a positive sign.
“I thought I could have it lower than I did,” said Woods, who carded six birdies against just two bogeys for the round. “I’m not too far away from posting a good number out there.”
Like many great athletes, Woods has often maintained that he’s never satisfied with his performance, continually and eternally searching for ways to improve his body of work. While his dinner may taste a little better after a round that qualified as his second-best ever in seven competitive trips to Spyglass, any gratification shouldn’t be mistaken for satisfaction.
In fact, listen to Woods’ words following the round and you’d expect a much larger number on the scorecard – that is, if you weren’t aware of his career-long insistence to always sweat the small stuff.
“My irons were not very good at all. I didn’t control my distances very good. My shapes were not very good,” he explained. “I had a few putts that obviously rolled over the edge, but also I didn’t give myself enough looks when I had wedges in my hand. I’ve got to do a better job of that. When you have wedges in your hand, you’ve got to hit inside of 10 feet.”
He continued, sounding like a guy who was dead last through the first round, not one who was knocking on the door to the first page of the leaderboard.
“It’s frustrating that I had wedges and I didn’t capitalize on it,” he said. “You look at the board and you have [three] guys at 9 [under par]. … They’re tearing the golf course apart. So this is the harder of the three [courses], so hopefully I can get it going in the next couple of days.”
If it sounds a bit quixotic for a player to bemoan his play, yet claim that he should have scored better, there’s company in his misery.
Playing partner Arjun Atwal, a friend of Tiger who has probably played as many casual rounds with him over the past few years than anybody else on Tour, viewed his performance in much the same regard.
“He was solid,” Atwal said. “That’s the highest he could have shot, I think. Drove it great, hit his irons good and he’s actually rolling it pretty good – they just didn’t go in.”
Tally up the post-round comments and you’ll find a player in Woods who was frustrated by his performance yet optimistic with his game. Considering he posted a 68 in the opening round and was displeased, that thought process could serve as a dangerous proposition for the remainder of the field this week.