Tiger's tantrum a low among group's highlights

September, 4, 2009

NORTON, Mass. -- On a day when one playing partner grabbed a share of the opening-round lead and another holed out from a bunker for eagle, Tiger Woods initiated the most fireworks in his threesome at the Deutsche Bank Championship. And they weren't the good kind.

I'll get to co-leader Steve Stricker's eye-popping 8-under 63 and Heath Slocum's continued pronouncement that he can hang with the big boys, but anytime the game's No. 1-ranked player commits a never-before-seen act on the course, it would be a journalistic sin to bury the lede.

In a career filled not only with victories, fame and fortune, but also grandiose outbursts and expletive-filled self-indulgences, Tiger suffered an epic meltdown at one point Friday. Teeing off the par-4 fifth hole -- his 14th of the day -- Woods badly blocked a drive well right of the fairway. That's hardly a surprise, but it's what followed that was truly startling. Almost immediately after impact, he spiked the driver toward the ground, releasing the grip and letting it fly into what can only be described as a dry wetlands area about 10 yards in front of the tee box.

Tiger then walked away, roaring "Release the club!" to himself -- an ironic proposition considering the aftermath of his swing. His caddie, Steve Williams, was left to recover the driver from the thigh-high thick stuff -- which proved to be a daunting task, as it took some 30 seconds to locate the club and another 30 to actually pry it loose -- failing to leave the potential eBay goldmine lying in the weeds.

Asked later to describe his frustration on the hole, Woods would only allow, "How about every hole?"

It was a "SportsCenter" moment if there ever was one, an occasion that would be replayed for the masses time and again. But here's the rub: On a tee box that was largely closed to foot traffic, Woods' tantrum may have been witnessed by fewer than a dozen observers -- playing partners included -- as nary a cameraman nor photographer was within shooting distance.

Once the driver was finally reunited with Frank the headcover and safely in the bag, Woods found his ball in an unplayable lie and was forced to take a drop from the hazard. He made bogey on the hole, then played his remaining four in 1 under par, ostensibly letting his frustrations go with that release of the club. It was part of an altogether respectable round of 70, especially considering how he described it afterward.

"I felt terrible over any tee shot," said Woods, who hit eight of 14 fairways. "Didn't matter what club it was, whether it was an iron on a par-3 or a driver on any hole. I didn't feel great over any shot. It was one of those days."

His lack of success off the tee might have been more acceptable if Woods was rolling the rock well at TPC Boston, where he has found success in the past. Instead, there was a continuation of the poor putting stroke that has plagued him at times during the second half of this season, missing four putts of 10 feet or less and making only two of more than 10 feet, including a 36-footer on No. 8 for one of his three birdies on the day.

"Some were bad putts," he admitted after taking 30 whacks in Round 1. "Most of the putts I hit today, if anything, they were lacking pace. They were kind of rolling by about 6 inches past the hole, maybe a foot. I just wasn't carrying enough pace to the hole."

While Woods couldn't find the pace, Stricker was busy setting it, posting a bogey-free 63 that left him a pair of strokes off the course record.

A six-time PGA Tour champion, including twice this year, the Wisconsin native has never won a tournament in which Woods was in the field. But at No. 4 in the Official World Golf Ranking, Stricker has learned to deal with life in the Tiger era.

"I guess I'm to the point where I'm comfortable with what I'm doing, and I'm not really worrying about him," said Stricker, who finished T-13 here a year ago. "He's going to hit those great shots and he's going to make those great putts. I can't do anything about that."

Instead, it was quite the opposite, as Stricker really heated up on the group's back nine, carding four consecutive birdies starting at No. 1, including three he finished from 4 feet or less.

"It was unbelievable," Woods said of his friend and Ryder/Presidents Cup teammate. "The putts were center cut, iron shots were right at it, and he was driving the ball great. He made one mistake there at 7 -- his layup was left [leading to par]. But other than that, you'd be hard-pressed to find a shot that he hit off line."

And then there was Slocum, who was playing with Stricker for the second time in six days. On the previous occasion, the 124th-ranked player in the FedEx Cup vanquished a bevy of big-timers, moving all the way up to third -- and a spot in this marquee group, as competitors are paired based on the points standings.

Once again proving he can play with the game's best, Slocum pitched in for eagle from the greenside bunker on the short par-4 fourth hole en route to a 2-under 69 -- one of a variety of deft shots from around the green by the Barclays champion.

That score meant Woods would have left the final green a little lighter in the wallet if this was a friendly money game, the high man in the threesome and the only one without a sub-70 total.

Of course, it's only 18 holes. With 54 more still to play, Tiger knows he still has a chance to be very much in the hunt here on Labor Day weekend.

"It's a four-day tournament," he said. "If you have a bad day, the whole idea is just to mitigate the mistakes and keep yourself in the ballgame. Today is a day I certainly could have shot over par, but I kept it under par, so that's a good sign."

Three birdies, two bogeys, one driver hurled in frustration. Outwardly, Tiger Woods wasn't pleased with his game on Friday, but that "good sign" on the scorecard makes it all the more palatable.

Jason Sobel | email

ESPN Senior Writer


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