PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Part of what makes PGA National one of the more difficult courses on the PGA Tour is the wind. Blowing out of the east from the Atlantic coast at a steady 15 mph on Thursday morning, it wasn’t exactly a day for low scores, with Alex Noren claiming the early lead at four-under 66 and only 18 players from the morning wave shooting par or better in the opening round of the Honda Classic.
That group included Tiger Woods, who, in just his seventh round and third tournament of the year, posted an even-par 70, matching his lowest first-round score in five career starts in the tournament. Along the way, he made one bogey, one double bogey and three birdies—the most impressive of which came on his second hole of the day, the par-4 11th, where he hammered an iron 297 yards up the right side of the fairway, hit his approach from 150 yards to 20 feet and made the putt.
“It was easily my best ball-striking day,” Woods said. “I was very pleased.”
With good reason.
Though he hit just seven of 14 fairways, 10 of 18 greens and didn’t birdie either of the par 5s, Woods controlled his ball well, for the most part, in the breeze. Some of those misses off the tee came with driver, which he hit five times, only finding the short grass once (and once hitting a pretzel stand). When Woods hit 3-wood or iron off the tee it was a different story. He missed just one fairway, by a few inches.
The best of his iron play came on the toughest hole on the course, the 17th. While playing partners Brandt Snedeker and Patton Kizzire found the hazard on the 193-yard par 3 over water (Snedeker tried to play his from the muck, and that didn’t go well, making a triple-bogey 6), Woods flushed a 5-iron into the wind. The ball trickled off the green, but the shot was pure.
Woods got up-and-down to save par, something he did successfully six of eight times on Thursday, which was another area of his game that looked sharper than his last round when he missed the cut at Riviera.
“I felt like I had good touch, but more importantly, I made a lot of the key short putts for par,” he said. “It was really tough. Some of those putts were a little bit bouncy.”
Asked if it was the best he has hit the ball this year, Woods said, “Easily.”
To that point, his proximity to the hole on Thursday was 28 feet, 11 inches—or more than 11 feet better than in his first two starts of the year at Torrey Pines and Riviera. His strokes gained-tee to green was also the best since the 2015 Wyndham Championship.
“I’m very pleased,” Woods said. “Today was not easy. It’s going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best. It was tough all around today. The wind was playing really hard, the rough’s up and it’s really tough to make putts out there.”
The only real hiccup came on the par-5 third, where Woods drove into a fairway bunker, laid up to 150 yards, hit 6-iron into a greenside bunker, pitched out to only the fringe, chipped five feet past the hole and missed the one coming back before tapping in for double.
His only other bogey was on the par-4 16th, where despite finding the fairway with a 2-iron, he tugged 7-iron into the sand and didn’t get up and down.
But given the windswept conditions, it was hardly that bad.
“I felt very comfortable today,” Woods said. “I felt like I hit the ball really well, and it was tough out there. I had to hit a lot of knock-down shots. I had to work the golf ball both ways, and occasionally downwind, straight up in the air. I was able to do all that today, so that was very pleasing.”