PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Even out of sorts, Tiger Woods was still the show.
In his first appearance as a pro in this event, Woods brought half of Palm Beach County to PGA National’s Champion Course, it seemed. The place was bursting at the seams Thursday with the largest crowds this event has ever seen. Tournament director Ed McEnroe said advanced ticket sales were up 168 percent from last year. Sales at the gate are way up. Though tournament officials increased shuttle buses for public parking, twice on Thursday they had to order more buses to accommodate the swarm.
Woods, who has moved to nearby Jupiter from Orlando, rocked the place with back-to-back birdies at the ninth and 10th holes, but his play was mostly sedating on the back nine. Woods hit 10 of 14 fairways and hit an impressive 15 greens in regulation, but he made just three birdies against four bogeys in a round of 1-over-par 71.
With so much focus on his putting now, Woods took too many putts, 34 of them. And he was surprisingly 0 for 4 trying to get up and down after missing greens. He couldn’t get up and down for pars at the seventh, eighth and 15th holes and couldn’t get up and down for birdie at the 18th. His chipping and short flops were uncharacteristically untidy.
“A couple easy up and downs, I blew those,” Woods said.
Woods starts Friday near the cut line, tied for 68th.
“I didn't get a whole lot out of my round,” Woods said. “I hit the ball a lot better than I scored, and I certainly putted well.”
Woods didn’t putt terribly, but he didn’t putt well. More than a half-hour after his round, he was still on the practice putting green with his coach, Sean Foley, working on his putting stroke. They were there with the sun going down.
Love and McIlroy gave Woods something to look at all day.
Love’s course-record-equaling 6-under 64 in the morning moved him atop the leaderboard in his quest to become the first American Ryder Cup playing captain since Arnold Palmer in 1963. McIlroy’s 66 in the morning kept his name just under Love’s in his quest to seize the No. 1 world ranking.
Though he is 39th on the American Ryder Cup points list, Love would jump to 11th with a victory this week. At 47, he believes he can still help the Americans win with more than his captain’s skills. The top eight in points automatically qualify for the team. Love will also get four captain’s picks.
“One good week for me, and I'm right back up in there,” said Love, who is seeking his first victory in four years. “Two wins is going to put a guy into good position.”
Love jump-started his round by acing the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 197 yards.
McIlroy, 22, can move to No. 1 in the world rankings this weekend, but he must win to do so. He’s in position and full of growing confidence and momentum.
“With all the talk about No. 1, it would be great to get to that position at some point,” McIlroy said. “I’m working towards that, and I feel like I’m playing good enough to challenge for it, at least. I’m working to try to peak my game from April through August for the four majors and for big tournaments.”
If Love and McIlroy keep it going, they might be the show and the story this weekend.