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Tiger's troubles from the tee continue at Memorial

DUBLIN, Ohio -- For nearly 20 years, Tiger Woods has walked onto the first tee at a professional golf tournament, acknowledged the cheering crowd, stuck a tee in the ground and started the day's journey by launching a shot for squinting eyes to try to follow.

To be exact, Thursday marked the 307th time he has done so in a PGA Tour event, which doesn't include all those other times he's done so in events official and unofficial around the world.

And yet the man who has been ranked No. 1 in the world for more weeks than any other player, the one who has 79 PGA Tour victories and 14 majors and countless other positives in a game filled with so many pitfalls, still feels the jitters when he does what would otherwise appear to be so routine.

"Oh, I always get nervous,'' Woods said following his opening-round 73 at the Memorial. "That's great. And the day I don't feel nervous on the first tee is the day I quit. That means I don't care anymore. I want to feel that juice on the first day.''

There's no doubt Woods cares -- the 75 minutes he spent on the driving range on Thursday afternoon after a disappointing start to the tournament being just one example.

And yet it is just one small part of the puzzle Woods is trying to put together right now, one that is giving him fits. He has difficulty getting off the first tee, and it's hard to remember when he didn't to begin a tournament.

Once again, Woods couldn't find the fairway on his first tee shot -- this time the 10th hole at Muirfield Village Golf Club -- hitting it well left of the fairway, leading to a bogey. Not once during the Wednesday pro-am did Woods hit a tee shot anywhere near that bad.

It's a trend that is difficult to ignore. Woods is playing just his fifth tournament of the year, but he's failed to hit the first fairway in any of them, failed to par any of them. Go back to last year's Open Championship at Royal Liverpool -- missed fairway.

Heck, remember the 2008 U.S Open at Torrey Pines? Woods double bogeyed his first hole three times and still won the tournament.

He can't get away with such mistakes now, and all you need to do is compare his scorecard Thursday to that of Jordan Spieth, the second-ranked player in the world. Both players had five birdies. Woods shot 73, Spieth 68.

While Spieth had just a single bogey -- and managed to get up and down for par on each of his first four holes -- Woods had a double and four bogeys, due mostly to poor tee shots.

He suffered three penalty strokes, one after a horrid approach shot to the par-5 11th hole bounced into a creek, two others for hitting a ball so far right on the 18th that some didn't even realize there was out of bounds on the hole.

After another poor drive at the first hole, Woods somehow managed to save par -- he did so three more times on the front side -- and added three birdies to salvage a 73 that easily could have been 78.

And despite having had seven weeks from when he tied for 17th at the Masters -- with a tie for 69th thrown in at the Players Championship -- Woods reminded us again that there is lots of work left to do if he is to climb from the depths of being ranked 172nd in the world to tournament contender.

"I can hit it either way; I've got to fix it,'' Woods said of tee shots that miss both left and right, perhaps the biggest fear of any golfer. "I'm going with it. As I said, I'm committed to it. And, unfortunately, it's part of the process.''

That process is one Woods acknowledged he's been through before, and one he appears determined not to abandon. Woods changed his swing under Butch Harmon, Hank Haney and Sean Foley, and now he is doing so again with Chris Como.

The results have been ugly at times, the product of a golfer who is not comfortable with what he is doing -- yet.

"It's the pattern we work on, we're trying to change it,'' Woods said. "It's kind of what you have to go through. And, unfortunately, I can hit it either way, because of this move we're working on. But it's so much more flush, and so much more solid and a lot easier on my body when I seem to do it right.''

Woods is typically coy about what he is doing, and the technical aspects of the golf swing are never easy to filter. Como has yet to do an extensive interview on the subject. But when the ball is going 60 yards off the fairway -- as it did a few times Thursday -- clearly something is not yet right.

And yet Woods, who has gone through all those swing changes, seems OK with the time this is taking. He said there's a "little bit different move we're working on'' since the Players Championship, and that it was important to test it in a tournament.

"But I need to do a little bit of work and keep progressing,'' he said. "And I'll try and get it to peak at the right time.''

That would suggest the U.S. Open in two weeks, as premature as that might seem at the moment. Woods has simply played too little golf to think he can win a major championship -- let alone any tournament at this point -- a subject he brushed off when it was suggested Thursday.

Playing only three tournaments in two months is not going to help a guy who is having trouble taking his game from the range to the course. But that is changing now. The Memorial is the first of six tournaments he is playing in 11 weeks -- or one event every other week through the PGA Championship.

As frustrated as Woods had to be Thursday, he didn't sound defeated. Some might say he's stubborn, but that is a trait that has served him well through the years.

"I'm staying committed to what we're working on,'' he said. "And I've gone through phases like this, rounds like this before in the past where, yeah, it's easy to revert back to the old pattern. But it doesn't do you any good going forward.

"I've done it; sometimes it's taken me about a year and then it kicked in and I did pretty good after that. And subsequent years went down the road, I did the same thing.

"Got to suck it up. If you believe in it, do it. And eventually it will start turning, and when it turns, I've had periods where I've played good for four or five years, where I've won close to 20 tournaments in that stretch.''

That appears a long way off at the moment. Some would suggest it will never happen. But Woods believes.

And just like getting nervous on the first tee, that's a good thing for him.