Tiger Woods righted ship mid-round

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Tiger Woods might be struggling to regain his form of old, but he still manages to cause some queasiness among others. Take Webb Simpson, a two-time PGA Tour winner who was on the same Presidents Cup team as Woods in November.

Simpson, 26, acknowledged he was nervous about the idea of playing with Woods on Thursday during the opening round of the Wells Fargo Championship. It was just the second time they had played together, and the first ended after less than 12 holes -- when Woods was carted off the course at Doral in March with a flare-up of his Achilles problems.

"We went from 10,000 people following us on every hole to zero,'' Simpson quipped.

Simpson handled the grouping along with Australian Geoff Ogilvy just fine at Quail Hollow. It was Woods who struggled.

Playing his first tournament since a disappointing Masters, Woods managed a 1-under-par 71 and is in a tie for 56th place (along with Phil Mickelson), six strokes back of Simpson, who is tied for the lead with Ryan Moore and Stewart Cink. They all shot 7-under-par 65s.

Woods, meanwhile, struggled to get under par. His front nine was particularly poor as he made three bogeys, hit just three fairways and only five of nine greens. A bogey at the ninth hole dropped him to 1 over par.

He made no more bogeys and picked up two birdies on the back nine to get under par for the day, perhaps the biggest consolation in a round that seemed sloppy.

"I made too many mistakes on the front nine,'' Woods said. "I didn't take care of the par-5s. I had an easy up and in at 8, which I messed up there. [No.] 10, I short-sided myself, and three or four shots and I'm right there. I've got to obviously not make those little mistakes like that tomorrow.''

Woods was coming off his poorest performance at the Masters since turning pro, a tie for 40th that saw him never break par and had many wondering how the gradual building toward victory two weeks earlier at Bay Hill could be lost so quickly, so shockingly.

There was considerable frustration for Woods that week at Augusta National, as he had just won the Arnold Palmer Invitational by five shots and appeared poised to be a contender in the year's first major.

But Woods struggled with his swing and his game, and his instructor, Sean Foley, said posture issues were mostly at fault. Woods said Thursday's round was much better, even if the result was perhaps not indicative.

"I was able to make the in-game adjustments,'' Woods said. "That's one of the good things about today is I made those adjustments on the back nine and hit the ball much better.

"The front nine I just missed the ball in the wrong spots, and a couple easy up and ins. It's something that I just need to take care of tomorrow.''

It's true that had Woods handled some routine pitches and got up and down for par, things would have looked much better. He hit 8 of 14 fairways, which is not great, but certainly not unusual. He also hit 12 of 18 greens and took 29 putts.

Simpson clearly made Woods' round seem worse than it was. After birdies at the 11th and 12th holes, he was eight strokes better than Woods -- even though he was uneasy about the situation before the round.

"I was just nervous, man,'' said Simpson, who lives in Charlotte and is a member at Quail Hollow. "I've got a nervous personality. I just needed to calm down a little bit. By nature I want to do well for all the people that are there watching me and I think I put too much pressure on myself.

"Getting that pairing kind of enhanced it for me. But I was lucky. Once I made a couple of birdies, I kind of enjoyed it, kind of turned it around for me.''

For Woods, it was not as enjoyable. He was battling allergy issues which caused him to put on sunglasses to protect his eyes. He struggled to get any momentum. Although he broke par in an opening round for the third time in six PGA Tour starts, he again finds himself outside of the top 20 after 18 holes.

The only time he's been among the top 20 was at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he was tied for fourth and went on to win. Woods opened that tournament 69-65 but has shot seven straight rounds in the 70s since, including two that were over par at the Masters. Playing catch-up does not make the task any easier.

"We've got a long way to go, and we've maybe got some rain coming on the weekend so we're going to have to go get it,'' he said. "The scores are going to probably be a lot lower.''

And that means Woods needs to sort a few things out before the morning, his second-round tee time not far away.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.