DUBLIN, Ohio – A late burst of birdies gave Tiger Woods his first sub-par opening round in the Memorial Tournament since 2013. It also gave him something to build on.
Coming off a missed cut at the PGA Championship, Woods birdied three of his last five holes Thursday for a 2-under-par 70 at Muirfield Village Golf Club on a damp, gray morning. It was his lowest score to begin this event since 2012, when he also shot 70 and went on to win the last of his record five titles here.
“It was close to being easily a few more under par,” Woods, 43, the reigning Masters champion, said. “It was soft enough; it was gettable. And I just didn't quite do it. I had a couple of loose irons. But look at the scores. They're all getting after it today. I was close to being out there with them.”
Woods hit 11 of 14 fairways and ranked seventh in the early wave in strokes gained-off the tee. But he suffered a couple of unforced errors on approaches and ended up hitting just 10 of 18 greens in regulation.
Still, he converted four birdies against two bogeys, and birdies at both par-5s on the front nine – his second nine of the day – and a five-foot birdie putt at the eighth hole, his penultimate of the round, gave him a solid red number to sleep on.
Despite overnight rains making the course soft, Muirfield Village still presented a challenge. And it wasn’t the only one.
“Hung in there and finally got it turned around at the end,” he said. “It was … we were on the clock most of the back nine. That made things a little more complicated.
“The rough is brutal,” he added. “They can't get any mowers on it the rest of the week, obviously with the rain coming in. The fairways are soft. And you can be aggressive. The ball is not going to be anywhere. Bryson [DeChambeau] caught one mud ball today and so did Rosie [Justin Rose]. I was lucky I didn't get any. I was clean for the day. And the way the golf course is playing right now, every iron shot is going to stick right there.
“The only hard part is actually trying to take the spin off of it. That's one of the things that is very different around here. You're usually trying to find spin wherever you can get it. But this week you try to hit a lot of dead iron shots.”
As for being on the clock, Woods and playing partners Rose and defending champion DeChambeau did their best to get back into position to not incur a penalty.
“That was frustrating, because we still had the last eight holes we were on the clock,” Woods said. “With the conditions the way they are, the caddies are communicating, trying to leapfrog one another, trying to help one another out. We're trying to either tap out or take a while to mark the golf ball to help the other players. So, it's one of those things where it's a group effort to try to get back in position.
“The group ahead of us, JT [Justin Thomas] doesn't take a lot of time, Rory [McIlroy] plays quick, and Jordan [Spieth] was 7-under through 13 holes. So, they're obviously playing fast. And we were obviously not.”
Rose, who won the 2010 Memorial, carded a 75, while DeChambeau, who was levied with a bad time from a PGA Tour official, had 74.
The brisker pace did not have an adverse effect on the world’s fifth-ranked player. Competing in a regular tour event for the first time since the Players in March was perhaps more of a challenge. Regardless, Woods was more than two strokes better than the morning scoring average of 72.3 and only five strokes behind the leader, Ryan Moore, at day’s end. In 2012, he was four behind Scott Stallings after one round.
“I'm definitely feeling a lot better, and I'm hitting the ball a little bit better. I just need to not make a couple of loose mistakes like I did today,” he said.