The Loop

Slow Start for Tiger on Front Nine

April 10, 2008

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Four-time champion Tiger Woods got off to a slow but steady start Thursday in the 72nd Masters Tournament at hot and humid Augusta National Golf Club.

Paired with U.S. Open winner Angel Cabrera of Argentina and Stuart Appleby of Australia, Woods made a nice par-save at the first hole, where he found the left rough off the tee, punched his second shot right of the green and hit a poor chip 10 feet past the hole. He converted--the longest putt he made on the front nine.

Prior to the round, Woods elected to replace his 5-wood with a 2-iron. His thinking was that it would be more helpful on several holes, notably off the tee at the 240-yard fourth hole.

At the par-5 second, Woods played conservatively with a 3-wood off the tee, then knocked his second shot short of the green with an iron. From there, he pitched 10 feet right of the hole and missed the birdie attempt.

Woods boomed a driver at the 350-yard par-4 third, coming up about 20 yards short of the green. His pitch shot carried too far and finished 20 feet beyond the cup, Woods two-putted the speedy, downhill birdie attempt. It was a disappointing score for Woods, who devoted much of pre-tournament practice time to chipping.

As planned, Woods hit a 2-iron at the fourth hole and found the front-right portion of the green, about 60 feet from the back-left pin placement. He struck a beautiful lag putt within two feet of the hole and tapped in for par.

Following two-putt pars at the fifth and sixth holes, Woods made a nice par-save at the seventh, where he came up short of the green with his approach shot.

Woods has said repeatedly that you need good breaks to win major championships. He got a bad one at the par-5 eighth hole, where he split the fairway with a driver. While he might have preferred to hit a 5-wood for his second shot, Woods didn't have the option and tried to cut a 3-wood on the blind, uphill second shot. He flushed it, the ball carrying into the bleachers behind the hole, then caroming right of the green. Woods was left with a very difficult third shot to the back-right pin and elected to putt, the ball just reaching the putting surface. A composed but frustrated Woods two-putted for par.

At the par-4 ninth, Woods hit another good drive and gave himself a good birdie chance. He failed to convert, capping the front nine with his ninth consecutive par and a score of even-par 36.

--Mark Soltau