Tiger Woods is done in by historic par-5 stumbles, shoots opening 76 in title defense

October 22, 2020

Tiger Woods shot a disappointing four-over 76, his worst competitive round ever at Sherwood Country Club.

Ezra Shaw

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Historically speaking, the matchup of Tiger Woods vs. Par 5s has been one-way traffic. Less a battle; more sheer demolition. Woods has feasted on the holes we used to call three-shotters, leading the PGA Tour in par-5 scoring 10 times in his career.

On Thursday, the par 5s got some revenge.

Woods played Sherwood Country Club’s five par 5s in three over par en route to shooting an opening-round four-over 76, a rather disappointing score that has him near the bottom of this 78-man field. Quickly, any chances of a repeat victory at the Zozo Championship—and a record-breaking 83rd career tour victory—evaporated.

The par-5 play was, in one sense, historically bad. For the first time in his career, Woods made bogey or worse on three par 5s in the same round … and he accomplished that undesirable feat in his first seven holes.

Starting his round on the 10th tee, the first sign of trouble came one hole later on the par-5 11th, where Woods fanned a tee shot—he struggled with a weak, spinny right miss all day—and got a terrible break when his ball came to rest in a one-foot gap between two trees. He had no choice but to hit the next shot lefty and caught it a bit heavy, which isn’t hard to do when you’re hitting a butter-knife blade iron turned upside down. It didn’t get to the fairway, and he hacked the next one down to wedge distance but couldn’t get it up-and-down for par.

There was no reason to panic, though, as Woods still had two more par 5s left on his first nine and four more total. The next one came at 13, a reachable hole if you find the fairway. Woods did not, pushing a 3-wood well right then failing to advance his second into the fairway. A mighty lash from the rough wasn’t enough to get even greenside with his third shot, and left the dreaded 50-yard bunker shot, which he left just short of the green. Three more from there and it was a double-bogey 7, and Woods was up against it early.

And still, Woods had reason to believe a turnaround was on the way. He played beautifully in Tuesday’s practice round and Wednesday’s pro-am, and he started last year’s Zozo Championship with three straight bogeys. When he holed an 87-foot bomb at 14, then made a solid par on the treacherous par-3 15th, you sensed his fortunes may be turning.

Until the tee shot on par-5 16th. Again, a 3-wood. Again, a push-fade that found a creek down the right. He had to drop far back which forced a layup, then hit his fourth over the green and needed an up-and-down to save bogey.

Woods’ back side was a nondescript slog, characterized by more right misses and a distinct lack of birdies. Woods made just two on the day. It added up to Tiger’s worse round in competition at Sherwood, where he won his foundation’s event five times. His previous high was 74, which he shot in the third round in 2001.

The good news is Woods will have three more rounds to iron it out, as this invitational event does not have a cut. Defending his title is all but out of the question this week, but he’ll have time to sort his ball-striking out, which will be critical if he’s to mount a more formidable title defense in three week’s time at the Masters.