MEDINAH, Ill. — Tiger Woods had his reasons for feeling rather pleased with his opening round Thursday in the BMW Championship. It’s just that his score wasn’t one of them.
Woods weathered 18 holes at Medinah Country Club without incident, but also without a lot of birdies, settling for a one-under-par 71 that left him with plenty of work to do if he is to have an opportunity to defend his title at next week’s Tour Championship. He ended up tied for 51st place in the 69-man field, but at least he has three more rounds to move up the 40 or so spots to finish in the top 30 in the FedEx Cup standings and return to East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
After converting birdies on three of his first five holes, Woods couldn’t get much else to fall on a day when birdies were plentiful on the rain-softened No. 3 Course.
At least he didn’t show any signs of back discomfort or problems with the strained oblique that caused him to withdraw from the Northern Trust after 18 holes last week.
“I didn't feel any tightness in my oblique at all, so that was a positive, and I just need to clean up my rounds and get going,” said Woods, ranked No. 6 in the world, who played just his 14th round of competitive golf since his Masters victory in April. “Seems like the whole field is under par. The golf course is soft. Even though it's long, it's just gettable.”
Woods, 43, swung smoothly all day and exhibited a requisite amount of power off the tee, averaging 291.4 yards for all drives. He hit his tee shot at the par-5 fifth hole 321 yards, setting up one of his four birdies on the day. Unfortunately, he made nothing after converting for birdie from four feet at the par-4 11th hole. The lone putter highlights on the inward holes included par saves at Nos. 15 and 17 from 12 and eight feet.
For a man who didn’t make a full swing for five days to let his oblique injury calm down, he played well. But he was far from satisfied, especially with his short irons.
“I made quite a few mistakes around the green and didn't chip it, didn't make that many putts, and consequently ended up at one under,” he said, allowing that he is having to overcome rust in his game. “It's just not sharp. I'm trying to make changes in my swing, and it's just not quite there yet. I need reps, and I just haven't really put in a lot of reps.”
He was most pleased, he said, with his long game. “Just the fact that I was able to hit it and it felt good, the fact that I was able to make the proper swing and hit some of the shots, I was a little bit uneasy about that because I hadn't done it,” he said. “I did it on the range a little bit yesterday. I hit a few drives yesterday for nine holes [in the pro-am], but how was it going to hold up when I had to hit shots? It's a totally different deal, as you know, when you have to hit shots.”
Going forward, he has to sink the putts if he's going to get into contention, though he was only six strokes behind the leaders Justin Thomas and Jason Kokrak.
“I'm going to have to. I'm going to have to make a lot of birdies,” he said. “There's so many guys under par that I'm going to have to shoot some low rounds just to get back in it.”