Tiger Woods starts with a struggle

NORTON, Mass. -- Before the rain settled in at TPC Boston, Tiger Woods spent most of the back nine's first four holes at the Deutsche Bank Championship muttering.

"Release the blade -- come on, Tiger," Woods repeated after coming up short on a birdie putt on the par-4, 461-yard 12th hole.

On the next hole, another long par-4, his woes continued; this time, he hooked his tee shot way left, toward the fans behind the ropes, and followed up on his second shot by landing his ball over the back of the green. He was able to make par, though, with a beautifully placed chip shot three feet to the left of the pin.

This act of saving oneself from the edge manifested itself all afternoon. Woods finished tied for 87th at 1-over-par, but was miserable off the tee all afternoon -- as the conditions grew soggier, so too, it seemed, did his drives. He averaged 290 yards off the tee, but landed on just two fairways on the front nine, and six of 14 in total.

And the blade wasn't exactly cooperating either. There were no three-putts on the day, but 11 two-putts; at times when he needed the birdie, he was often pushing the ball just short or too long, sometimes wide.

The fans who came in droves to the first round could only look up at the giant scoreboard on the 16th hole and see that the main attraction was already 4-over through six holes, and tied for 99th out of the 100 competitors in the field.

For most of the afternoon, Woods looked about as visibly ticked off as one can get without snapping. And that might have been the problem.

"If only the top 100 make it to this tournament, and he's 99th, that's not good. And he has his attitude to blame," said spectator Sean Sutherlan, a 27-year-old from Bridgeport, Conn., while watching at the fifth hole. "He could be a little easier on himself. Right now, he looks like he's given up. … I mean, the top 75 make the next leg, right? Then he should lighten the mood up a little bit. He's too critical of himself."

Others saw it conversely.

"I saw him step away from three putts [on the back nine]," said 17-year-old Ashland resident Ryan Kennedy at the first hole. "He doesn't look as confident today. He doesn't seem to have that air of confidence we've seen from him before."

Kennedy was here with his pal Sam Bronstein, his co-captain on this year's golf team at Ashland High, and the two sprinted from spot to spot with each shot Woods took. Bronstein, at that moment, pulled a divot out of his pocket giddily -- "This is from his shot on the 13th," he said, beaming.

Woods was his usual guarded self in his quick meeting with the media after his round.

The main problem?

"I just didn't have it today," Woods said. "Just didn't -- wasn't really doing what I was supposed to be doing out there swing-wise, and then wasn't releasing the putter blade out there and was dragging it a little bit. It was a bad day all around."

"You've just got to battle back," he added. "I tried to stay focused on what I was doing out there, and I got it back a little bit. I felt I could have got a couple more out of it, actually."

The fan caravan cut itself in half after Woods birdied the 17th and 18th to finish up two-over on his first nine holes. He remained his diplomatic self through all of the poor drives and missed opportunities on the green.

Sutherlan may have gotten his wish, if only in spurts, as Woods broke out a smile here and there in his small talk with his caddie. But like Woods' drives, the glimpses were few and far in between.

"Great job, Tiger!" someone screamed as Tiger finished up par for the fifth hole, walking to the next tee.

As usual, Woods never broke stride -- or even glanced over -- in his prompt response:

"Thanks, guys."

Brendan Hall writes for ESPNBoston.com.