He trails Briny Baird, who is 0-for-347 in his PGA Tour career, by a half-dozen shots and his amateur playing companion Patrick Cantlay by a four-spot. He hit just half his fairways on one of the circuit’s most spacious parking lots and may have had new caddie Joe LaCava wondering if that 62 at the Medalist was a nine-hole card?
In short, it was cold and dreary on Wednesday in San Martin, Calif., at the Frys.com Open, a convenient catch-all for both Tiger Woods and Mother Nature.
Things didn’t start out that way. There was that textbook birdie at the opening hole, the first time Woods has been under par on Tour since his sixth hole at the PGA Championship. Ditto for the workmanlike birdie at the par-515th hole – driver/3-wood/flop to 3 feet.
Everything else in between was as unsightly as the northern California weather. The only time he made a putt it was for par, or so it seemed, and when there was momentum to be seized the rally-killer horseshoed its way out.
There was the bunker-to-bunker-to-bunker excursion at the second (bogey), the 3-footer for par that caught the lip before spinning back in Woods’ direction (bogey) and a particularly emblematic double bogey in a downpour at the par-5 12th.
Woods, and the record, will tell you it was his 27 putts that ultimately landed him in a tie for 83rd following his opening 73.
“Not happy,” Woods said. “(It was) one of the worst putting rounds I’ve ever had. Don’t think I can putt the ball worse than I did today.”
Given Woods’ run of missteps of late he may not want to tempt the golf gods with such hyperbole. To be fair to the flat stick he did follow his missed 4-footer for birdie at the ninth with a 12-foot par save at the 10th, but there was far too much of the former.
Yet Woods’ first round since the PGA was not exactly a ball-striking exhibition. He hit a 3-wood so heavy he still had 213 yards in on the 454-yard fifth hole, pulled his layup with an iron into a hazard at the 12th and managed to find only half of CordeValles’ sprawling putting surfaces.
For anyone who expected the former world No. 1 to run through the Fall Series event like it was a Class AA rehab start, the reality was stark. Instead Woods is squarely in the middle of the pack – a perfectly pedestrian performance and, regardless of external expectations, perfectly understandable.
On Wednesday your correspondent cringed when Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive” crew asked Woods’ swing coach Sean Foley what his expectations were for his star student. Foley, you see, doesn’t dare venture down that dead end.
All the “reps” in south Florida can’t replicate game speed. Sixty-twos at the home club are nice but the mini-tours are filled with players who can’t be beaten at Friendly Confines Country Club.
Woods himself noted on Wednesday that he’d been here before. He has emerged from both injury and swing overhauls, but never at the same time. When he picked up the pieces following extensive knee surgery in 2008 it was with the same Hank Haney-designed swing. In simplest terms it’s like climbing back onto a bike only to find it’s been fitted with a third wheel.
This time around he’s calling audibles on the fly. This week he’s spoken of the “thousands” of swings needed to own a new action, and, to be fair, the odd 73 swats he took on Thursday at CordeValle can count as progress, but only when taken in context.
Woods said his only goal this week was a “W (win),” signature competitive blinders, or blind spot, for a man who keeps time with a keen historical perspective. For the rest of us, however, the perspective is different. From lowered expectations come surprisingly unexpected results.
It’s called under-promising and over-delivering. But that’s probably not in the former alpha male’s DNA, which is why he marched off CordeValle on Thursday and headed for the practice putting green.
“Given the right amount of time, which no one wants to hear, we’re going to do just great,” said Foley, who seems to be the calmest head in the Frys.com Open room at the moment.
Woods understands there are no shortcuts to success. It may be time the rest of us, start embracing that simple truth.