He’s back, but while Tiger Woods has returned to a major championship leaderboard, the 14-time major winner believes he still has so much more |potential to be unleashed.
Woods played his first round in a major in 11 months yesterday at Royal Liverpool as The Open got under way at Hoylake and despite some rust with back-to-back bogeys at the first and second holes, the American showed no ill effects of the back surgery he underwent in March and forced him to miss the Masters and US Open.
Far from it. An opening three- under-par 69 that finished in style with a back-nine, six-hole stretch that featured five birdies at the cost of just one bogey, leaves Woods starting today’s second round just three shots back on Rory McIlroy’s clubhouse lead but still looking to improve.
The 38-year-old’s return to the game following the microdiscectomy to relieve a pinched nerve had come earlier this month, lasting just two rounds as he missed the cut at his own invitational event on the PGA Tour, the Quicken Loans tournament at Congressional Country Club.
It may have proved short-lived but Woods found those 36 holes invaluable preparation for The Open.
“I knew I could do it,” he said. “That’s why it was so important for me to play at Congressional. The fact I was able to recover every day, and the fact I was stronger, more explosive the more days I played. I’m only going to get better from that point. And I’m getting stronger, I’m getting faster, I’m getting more explosive. The ball is starting to travel again.
“(Now) I need to get everything a little bit better. That’s the case all of time, anyways. But, at Congressional, I made just some terrible mistakes mentally. My decisions weren’t very crisp and I wasn’t decisive enough. Today was totally different. And consequently I shot a better score.
Woods, hampered by his back throughout the year, has failed to win in 2014 and has some way to go to even match the exploits of last year when he won five times on the PGA Tour. And of course he has not won a major since the 2008 US Open, each of his 14 majors having been preceded by a regular Tour event victory earlier in the season, including his tour de force on this course to win The 2006 Open. So, when Woods produced some decidely worse than average golf as his round got under way yesterday, bogeying the par-four first after missing the green right and then clearing the green with his recovery attempt and ending up in a deep swale, it appeared those who doubted he was ready to compete this week were being proved right.
Another bogey at the second, also a par four, seemed to confirm it but Woods was unperturbed.
“That’s fine,” he said. “Because I still had four par-fives to play. I still had a couple of the short holes. I’m not going to be the only guy in a 72-hole event to make two bogeys. I just got mine out of the way early. With the forecast the next couple of days supposed to be iffy, guys aren’t going to go really low here. We’re going to be bunched. It’s the type of golf course where the scores are going to be bunched. And you look at the scores, there’s a ton of players between two and four under par. And that’s the way this championship is going to unfold.”
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