The Loop

Tiger Woods' first round in four months: Call it torture by 77 cuts

December 04, 2014

WINDERMERE, Fla. -- From an awkward downhill lie just over the left fairway bunker on the par-5 seventh hole, Tiger Woods unleashed one of his ferocious one-legged slashes that nearly reached the green.

He showed real speed through the hitting zone. And he didn't hurt himself.

"No, but the next shot hurt," he said, managing a grin.


(Getty Images)

Indeed, Woods endured more than his share of pain on a breezy Wednesday afternoon in central Florida in his first competitive round in four months. Call it torture by 77 cuts.

While newly minted Australian Open winner Jordan Spieth was carving out a six-under-par 66 at Isleworth Golf & Country Club to take the first-round lead in the Hero World Challenge, Woods, the tournament host, was 11 strokes in arrears and last - by four shots - in the 18-player field, the first time he has ever been last in his own event.

It's difficult to turn rust into gold dust.

The best thing that can be said about Tiger's first public golf since missing the cut at the PGA Championship in August was that he didn't aggravate his surgically-repaired back. That and he made one birdie, a one-footer at the 12th.

Oh, sure, there was more. "Shot patterns were fantastic. And as I think all of you saw, I got my power back and I got my speed back. It's nice to be able to start launching it again. That's a very good sign."

That said, his new-old swing didn't do him many favors on his former home course, and his short game came up, well, considerably short of the standards of your average 20-handicapper, let alone the No. 24 player in the world.

"It's weird," said Woods, who mis-hit four chips and a bunker shot. "I didn't think I hit it that bad. My short game was awful. It was just one of those days where really nothing went my way."

The round started inauspiciously when Woods had to back off his opening tee shot because of camera clicks. He then proceeded to pull his 3-wood into a neighbor's backyard and was fortunate to save bogey after an approach to two feet.

Hitting only two fairways and three greens, due mostly to a series of pulled shots to the left, Woods carded an outward 41. The most untidy interlude occurred at Nos. 7 and 8. He left his third shot in the bunker, which led to a bogey at the former, and then he doubled the latter with a chunked chip and a most original three-whack. That was comprised of an attempted recovery from near the out-of-bounds barrier for his second shot followed by the ball hitting a tree followed by Tiger whacking the barrier fence with his 5-iron.

And so it went.

His long game improved on the inward nine, hitting every fairway and seven of nine greens, but he threw away three shots with poor chips. He ended up finding nine fairways, 10 greens and too much dirt on the face of his wedges.

"It certainly is surprising that I could hit chip shots that poorly. I flubbed them. I have a nice facility in my back yard so I can't say it's for the lack of practicing," said Woods, who added that he is getting acclimated to a new chipping motion as he works on changes to his full swing.

"I played a practice round with him on Monday, and he flushed it," said Jason Day, who, after his own sabbatical to rehab a bad back, opened with a 71 playing alongside Woods. "His short game was on point. To see that many poor chips from Tiger Woods is surprising."

Woods is paired with Patrick Reed at 11:20 a.m. EST Friday in the first group of the second round. He still had thoughts about trying to get back into the thick of the tournament. "I have three more days," he said. "If I can get under par for the tournament after tomorrow, and, hopefully, have a good weekend, hope to get myself back into contention."

"I felt like I didn't hit it that poorly," he added. "I really hit a lot of good shots and got nothing out of it, obviously."

Obviously. With all the changes Woods has made in the last four months, his inability to score remains. Like he said himself, weird.