Tiger Woods couldn’t build on a promising start and literally limped home to an opening 74 on Thursday at Southern Hills.
Woods was playing along in red figures from the opening hole before he double-crossed his approach on the 18th green. He slammed the club down in frustration and never seemed comfortable again after trudging up the steep hill on the closing hole then having to navigate the even steeper slope downhill off the first tee.
After a bogey from the back bunker on 18 left him even par at the turn, Woods couldn’t get his mojo back on the front side and posted a 4-over 39 that included bogeys at 1, 2, 4, 8 and 9 and a lone birdie on No. 3.
“I drove it well, but my iron shots were not very good. I didn't get the ball very close,” he said. “I got off to a great start and didn't keep it going. I really didn't give myself any looks for birdie. I was struggling trying to get the ball on the green, and I missed quite a few iron shots both ways. It was a frustrating day.”
While playing with Rory McIlroy – who put on a driving clinic to claim the first-round lead with a 5-under 69 – and Jordan Spieth, Woods displayed the same kind of conservative gameplan off the tees that led him to victory at Southern Hills in the 2007 PGA Championship. He was hitting irons off par-4 tees on Nos. 12, 15, 17, 4 and 9 while McIlroy and Spieth were banging drivers well more than 100 yards beyond Woods.
Even worse, Woods didn’t seem to have full control of his stinger irons and kept missing fairways on 15, 4 and 9 and putting himself further in arears and leading to bogeys.
“Well, it wouldn't have been so far back if I would have hit the iron shot solid and put the ball in the fairway,” Woods said of his strategy. “I was playing to my spots, and those guys obviously have a different game plan. It's just different.
“The game is just different. It's much more aggressive now, and I know that. But I was playing to my spots. If I would have hit the ball solidly on those two holes and put the ball in the fairway, I would have been fine. I would have had 9-iron, 8-iron in there. That's not a big deal. But I didn't do that. I put the ball in the rough over there on No. 4 and hit the tree on No. 9 and ended up hitting a 4-iron in there.”
Making on his second start on a surgically repaired lower leg after injuries sustained in a car crash in February 2021, Woods was noticeably in discomfort earlier than he was walking the hills at Augusta National in April.
“Yeah, my leg is not feeling as good as I would like it to be. We'll start the recovery process and get after it tomorrow,” he said.
“I just can't load it. Loading hurts, pressing off it hurts, and walking hurts, and twisting hurts. It's just golf. I if don't play that, then I'm all right.”