TULSA: By the time Tiger Woods headed to the fifth tee on Thursday, the hot start to his return to the PGA Championship had turned cold, and what was quickly turning into a scorching day in Southern Hills had also turned into an agonizing grind.
Two early birdies that had him in the red seemed like distant memories, replaced by misses off the tee, wayward irons into the green, flyers out of the bunkers and not enough putts to save his game. Woods ended up with a 4 of 74 on the same course where he won the 2009 PGA, leaving him weary of the cut line heading into Friday’s second round.
“I got off to a good start and didn’t keep going,” said Woods, who often grimaced over the stretch of a right leg that was nearly amputated 15 months ago. “I really didn’t look at myself for a birdie. I was struggling to put the ball on the green and missed quite a few iron shots back and forth. It was a frustrating day.
Painful too. Woods was optimistic that after riding up the hill at Augusta National during the Masters, the right leg that was so badly injured in a car accident would do well on the reasonably flat and compact course in Tulsa. But whether he was playing with a compression band during his back nine, or using his driver almost like a cane as he walked the fairways, it quickly became apparent that the leg was bothering him.
After hitting his tee shot into the bunker on the green side of his penultimate hole, Woods grimaced as he walked cautiously to his bag. He then leaned heavily on it while watching his playing partner Rory McIlroy hit his approach shot.
“My leg doesn’t feel as good as I would like it to,” admitted Woods, who missed last year’s tournament at Kiawah Island while recovering. , and the twist hurts.
At one point, Woods had five bogeys in an eight-hole streak, and he added two more on his last two holes. The result was his worst PGA opener since shooting 75 in 2015, when he missed the cut.
“We’ll start the recovery process,” Woods said, “and we’ll deal with it tomorrow.”
Playing in the star group of the day with McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, Woods gave a huge gallery after their move on Thursday an early reason to roar. He hit one of his rare clean approach shots at the par-4 10th and rolled in a birdie to start his round, then hit his approach about 13ft at the par-3 14th long and made another birdie.
But a bad iron off the tee at the par-4 15th led to a bogey, and another bad iron after a perfect drive at the 18th led to another. And after making the turn par, Woods bugged three of the first four holes on the front side, then added those two to finish – including on the ninth, where he missed a chip shot over the green.
“Hit a lot of bad iron shots in the middle of the inning and the end of the inning,” Woods said simply.
Make things look worse? The fact that McIlroy made it easy.
McIlroy aggressively hit the driver pretty much every time he could, while Woods cautiously hit irons from multiple tees in hopes of finding the fairway. But the result was that the Northern Irishman was often 100 yards closer to the green, leaving him with mid and even short irons for his approaches, and helping to produce a 5-under 65 and the first lead.
“Well, it wouldn’t have gone that far if I had hit the iron solid and put the ball in the fairway,” Woods said. “I was playing in my shoes, and these guys obviously have a different game plan. . It’s just different.
Spieth also hit the driver whenever possible, although it didn’t do him as much good. He struggled for a 2 of 72, leaving him in need of a low score on Friday as he chases the missing career Grand Slam piece.
Woods will also need a big second round in Southern Hills, but he can take comfort in having done so before. He shot 63 on Friday to take control of the 2007 PGA, then rode through the weekend to claim his fourth Wannamaker Trophy.
Again, that was a long time ago and there are many injuries.
“A lot of treatments, a lot of ice baths,” Woods said. “Try to eliminate the inflammation and try to prepare for tomorrow.”