PITTSFORD, N.Y. – Maybe Mark Twain had it right.
Maybe there are only three kinds of lies – lies, damn lies and statistics. What else could explain the apparent disconnect between what Tiger Woods said following his 1-over 71 on Thursday at the PGA Championship and what his scorecard screamed.
“The day overall ... I played really well today,” the world No. 1 figured.
Woods would go on to explain it was a loose 9-iron here, an unfortunate bounce there that turned what had the makings of a solid start into something else.
For those who micro-analyze Woods from playing field to podium (your scribe included), it’s easy to lapse into the warm blanket of numbers to digest what would otherwise be unquantifiable.
When Woods bolted Oak Hill on Thursday he was tied for 63rd and six strokes adrift of the early lead. The record books will record he hit 9 of 14 fairways, 9 of 18 greens in regulation and needed 27 putts.
What the math doesn’t report is that on his first hole his drive trundled just into the first cut of rough and his approach nestled some 3 inches short of the putting surface. Or that on the 14th hole his approach hit just short of hole high into a bank, ripped back some 40 feet and came to rest just on the collar. Or that his iron tee shot at the par-5 13th landed like a cricket ball in the fairway and jackknifed into the hay.
You get the idea.
In fact, for his first nine holes Woods looked more like the guy who won 14 of his first 46 majors he played as a professional than the current version who is mired in an 0-for-18 slump.
According to cup lore, the Spaniard didn’t hit a fairway all day but made a match of it by getting up and down from all over the lot.
For nine holes on Thursday Woods appeared to be taking a page from Seve’s book, turning in 2 under following par saves at Nos. 10, 11, 14, 17 and 18. He didn’t make everything early, just the ones he had to have, and needed just 11 putts on his outward loop to turn with momentum directly into an official’s stopwatch.
Woods’ group – which included Keegan Bradley and Davis Love III – was put on the clock for being out of position on the first hole and stayed there until the fifth tee. That Woods’ run unraveled during that same time was not a coincidence, nor would that show up in the sports-section agate.
“I stuffed it at (No.) 2,” Woods said. “Probably should have taken a little longer, but we were on the clock.”
During that run he missed birdie attempts of 18 feet (No. 1), 3 ½ feet (No. 2) and 15 feet (No. 3) and made a mess of the par-5 fourth to sign for a bogey.
By the time his 9-iron approach shot into the ninth hole dropped short and into the rough the damage was done. He misplayed a flop shot from there and had “nothing” for his fourth attempt on his way to a closing double bogey for just his second over-par opening round in his last eight major Thursdays.
“I’m still right there, six back with a lot of golf to play,” he said.
Sounds about right, a two-possession hole with three quarters to play which would normally be well within the margin of error. But if it’s true what they say, that luck favors the prepared, he will need to convert the big ones for an entire round, not just in highlight-reel spurts.
Even after his solid putting start, Woods appeared flummoxed by Oak Hill’s greens, so much so he called Joe LaCava in to help with reads so often that the caddie may be looking for a little OT pay following his Thursday loop.
Woods made a point earlier this week, explaining that he hit the ball just as well at the Open Championship, where he tied for 32nd, as he did last week at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where he rolled over the field by seven shots.
It is a truth not found in the statistics, or even a scorecard. Twain knew it, Tiger senses it and the rest of us may need to accept it.