<
>

Highs, lows abundant for Tiger in Round 1

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- When you hit a shot as poorly as Tiger Woods did on the eighth hole Thursday at TPC Sawgrass, perhaps the best way to deal with it is with some humor.

"I don't think my ball actually touched grooves," Woods said of the 4-iron that came up some 50 yards short of the par-3 hole from 210 yards and bounced into a water hazard that would not be considered in play for professionals.

"I've never seen it before," Woods said. "I've never seen it until now."

Golfers are going to hit some bad shots from time to time, and this one would rank among Woods' all-time worsts. When he said he nearly missed the ball, there was some truth in the statement.

This is the state of Woods' game at the moment: plenty of good but also plenty of bad, as he works through the various issues that have plagued him for most of the past two years.

His opening-round 73 at the Players Championship could have been better; it certainly could have been worse, too.

Injuries have robbed him of practice time and a change in swing coaches has meant learning new moves. Under the glare of competition, he sometimes reverts to the old "patterns" and when it comes time to commit to a shot, it doesn't always happen.

Case in point: That distance on the tee shot on the eighth measured at 179 yards. That's how far it traveled, but it landed much shorter than that, then bounced into a hazard that a fair number of the amateur hackers who shell out $300-plus at TPC Sawgrass would never notice, either.

"It's one of those things where Chris [Como, his swing consultant] and I are working on some things, and when I start feeling a certain way, I revert back to the old habits," Woods said. "So we have been kind of exaggerating certain things and I said I'm feeling this way. I'm going to exaggerate just a little bit. And I did -- and I barely made contact."

Said Adam Scott, who played with Woods: "Occasionally everyone hits a shot that we're a little embarrassed about. I'm sure he was with that one. You have to laugh it off."

Woods followed with a birdie at the ninth but could not sustain any momentum. A birdie at the 14th was followed by a bogey at the 15th. He hit a moon shot approach from 235 yards at the par-5 16th and two-putted for birdie, but at the 17th he was fortunate his ball didn't go in the water after a wind gust. Woods then chipped in for birdie on the par-3 by purposely blading a shot from up against the collar.

With the good vibe of two straight birdies and being under par for his round for the first time, Woods ... barely pulled his tee shot at the 18th, and it found water, leading to his second double-bogey of the day.

"Probably the highest score I could have shot today," he said. "I didn't get much out of that round. I hit the ball better than the score indicates, and I got a couple of good breaks and never took advantage of them. Just really struggled hitting the putts hard enough to get them to the hole. Even when I tried to ram them, I still didn't get the ball to the hole, so I need to make a better adjustment on that."

Lest we forget, this is just Woods' second tournament since a nine-week layoff to address numerous issues in his game, most notably the short game. It's hard to find fault with that at the moment, as was the case last month at the Masters, where he tied for 17th.

And TPC Sawgrass is not exactly his favorite venue, despite two victories. He has just five top-10s in 15 appearances and although he's never missed the cut, there have also been five finishes outside of the top 30.

Woods said there were no issues physically, and that the wrist he hurt during the final round of the Masters was fine. But he acknowledged earlier this week that it kept him from practicing for a few days following the year's first major, and that a few issues he's been working on in his game are "a bit fresh."

"I'm going to start playing a little bit more now since I'm in some of these events now, not like last week," Woods said, referring to the WGC-Cadillac Match Play. "I'm able to play a regular schedule now and start getting after it."

That schedule includes just one event prior to the U.S. Open and just six total -- including the Players -- through the Quicken Loans National tournament in August.

Competitive rust remains an issue, and that won't change until Woods gets inside the ropes consistently. As he has done numerous times throughout this period of struggle, Woods opened the tournament by making a bogey at the first hole.

He did so at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and at the Masters. In both those events, just like here, he shot 73. It puts him in a tough spot, having to first battle to make the cut before he can think about getting into contention.

The good news is he's just 6 strokes behind co-leaders Hideki Matsuyama, David Hearn, Charley Hoffman and Kevin Na. The bad news is he's tied for 77th, with just the top 70 and ties making the 36-hole cut.

Woods will get an early-morning tee time on Friday, a perfect opportunity to make up ground after saying he was encouraged by the way he played, but discouraged with the score.

"I should have shot in the 60s easily today, and hopefully tomorrow I can get it done," he said.