Golfweek’s Geoff Shackelford describes how the rain has affected the greens and what tactics players should use for success.
ST. LOUIS — Yearning Missouri sports fans finally got to see Tiger Woods.
And did the masses ever get their money’s worth as a tale of two Tigers played out Thursday on the grand stage that is Bellerive Country Club in the first round of the 100th PGA Championship.
Under bright skies, he was mediocre at times, spectacular at other times. He had little control of his golf ball, then was in total charge of it. He was down, then up. Scowling then smiling. It was Jekyll and Hyde in nature.
When he departed the green theater after a five-hour performance, he was back where he started, at even-par but once again thinking he could win his 15th major and fifth Wanamaker Trophy.
“Just happy to be within five right now,” Woods said after he signed for a 70 and trailed pace-setter Rickie Fowler, who authored a 65.
He had every right to be happy, for his start needed a rewrite. Shortly after the curtain opened at 8:23 a.m. local time, fans started to wonder what all the fuss was about, why their thirst to see the best player of his generation up close for the first time had been so pitched.
Many must have wondered if Tiger was using a stand-in, as he sprayed the ball all over the big ballpark. He found the rough with his first tee shot on the 10th hole and made bogey, then stuck a sand wedge into the ground from 118 yards on his second shot on the 11th hole and saw it wind up 20 yards short of his target and in the water.
Double bogey. Two holes in and Woods was 3 over.
But after Tiger changed his stripes with a switch of shirts just past the 12th tee, necessitated not to alter the mojo but because, as he said, “I sweat a lot,” Woods made birdie from two feet. But then he had an adventure in the woods on the 15th but managed to save par, then bogeyed the 16th with a miserable tee shot. He came up short with a sand wedge again on the 17th and was forced to scramble for par. He should have been 5 over, not 3 over.
Thankfully for Tiger, that ended the first act where he hit the fairway in regulation just two of six times, hit just three of eight greens. Those were like his early-season numbers when he wasn’t quite back to full speed.
But starting on the 18th, Tiger became the A-list star the fans wanted to see. After a fairway-splitting drive, he stuck a 7-iron to 4 feet and made birdie, then bounded to the first tee with his first sign of energy all day.
“It was nice to kind of turn the tide going into the back nine with that birdie,” Woods said.
The tide continued to roll on the front nine as Woods added two birdies and missed several good chances for more red numbers. After being so erratic off the tee, he found the fairway seven of his last eight attempts, found the green eight of his last 10 approaches. After a 37 on his opening nine, he came home with a 33.
“It kept me in the golf tournament,” Woods said of his last 10 holes. “I could have easily gone the other way, being 3 over through two. A lot of things could happen. Not a lot of them were positive, but I hung in there and turned it around. I was able to grind out a score today.”
Woods has grinded often in his return to professional golf following spinal fusion surgery. In many ways, it’s the best thing he’s done during his comeback that has included six top-12 finishes in 13 starts.
But Woods is hoping for a smoother act in the second round, when he again joins Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy beginning at 1:48 p.m. CT Friday. The crowds will be massive again.
What Tiger will they see?