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If Woods' putter gets hot, watch out

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AKRON, Ohio – A great season is still there to be claimed for Tiger Woods.

He knows what grand possibilities still hang within his reach down this busy home stretch of the PGA Tour season.

With a chance to win his eighth WGC-Bridgestone Invitational title this week, with the PGA Championship next week and the FedEx Cup playoffs shortly after, there’s bounty galore still to be won over the next eight weeks. Mostly, there is that major championship prize that can change the nature of his rebound this year from good to great.

So Woods marched hard to the driving range after a disappointing even-par 70 Thursday at Firestone Country Club. He marched knowing his ball striking is becoming more than good enough to claim these big prizes, if only his putter will begin to behave.

Woods squandered too many chances in the first round at Firestone, and if he doesn’t get his putter fixed, he will squander some stellar ball striking in a bid to claim what’s important the rest of this season.

If you watched Woods on Thursday, you saw the possibilities. You saw it in the control he had off the tees and into the greens.

“I hit it good today,” Woods said. “Unfortunately, once I got to the greens, I think I probably averaged four putts per hole. It wasn’t a great day on the greens.”

Woods hit 11 of the first 12 greens he played, eight of the first 11 fairways. He hit his driver often and impressively, avoiding the big misses that have plagued him at his most erratic in the past.

In the end, Woods putter didn’t just let him down. It looked like it brought him down.

After watching one good birdie chance after another escape, after missing a 5-footer for par at the 13th, Woods’ body language suggested the exasperation wore him down coming home. It looked like the frustration over his inability to capitalize on his ball striking seeped into his larger game. He faded at the finish, turning what might have been a 65 or 66 into a 70.

A good day started to come undone at the 16th tee, where Woods rocketed his first big miss with his driver to the right and into the trees. He needed four shots to reach the green and made bogey at the par 5. He missed right with his driver again at the 18th, but it was his putter that made the last, lingering impression.

Woods three-putted at the last. He missed a 3-footer for par that was the last dagger in his day.

“I just hit bad putts,” Woods said. “My speed was off. The putts that I pured, I didn’t make. The bad putts didn’t have a chance.

At 3-under through the first 12, Woods closed with bogeys at three of his last six holes, two of his last three.

On a day when the field feasted on birdie chances, Woods needed 33 putts. On a day when 30 players shot in the 60s, Woods wasn’t among them. He’ll start Friday seven shots behind leader Jim Furyk.

South African Branden Grace, playing for the first time with Woods, didn’t think Woods’ ball striking and score added up, either.

“Tiger’s ball striking was good,” Grace said. “I was really impressed the way he hit his driver. You see on TV where his driver isn’t supposed to be his best club, but it was a different story today.”

After meeting with media, Woods wasted no time after the round getting to the driving range, where he worked on his driver for a short time and then his putter.

“I was at 3 under par,” Woods said.  “That’s not that bad. At the time, I was three back of the lead and hadn’t made a thing. I thought that was a good sign. Unfortunately, I finished awful.”

Woods went to work making sure his finish to the season will be a different story.