"I hit some of the worst golf shots I've ever hit today," Tiger Woods said following his opening-round 72 at The Masters on Thursday. After rounding into form two weeks ago at Bay Hill, picking up his first win since 2009, Woods struggled at Augusta National, especially off the tee. It started on the range in the morning, when Woods said he felt like his swing was off, and continued onto the first tee, where he pulled his shot way left, into the pinestraw.
It was a theme for Woods throughout the day -- wayward tee shots, almost always left, that forced him to scramble. This wasn't a smooth round, with fairways and greens, the occasional birdie and plenty of short par putts. For Woods, it was a battle.
"I just wanted to keep grinding," Woods said. "Whatever it is, keep fighting. I just hung in there, grinded my way around the golf course. Stayed very patient; stayed in the moment. Fortunately, that's about as good as I got right there. I could've maybe shot one, maybe two, better. I got a lot out of that round."
Whether it was the two weeks off following the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a setback in the process as Woods continues to rework his swing or just a bad day, Woods just didn't seem to have it. And still, he hung around for most of the day, heading into the final two holes at 2-under for the day before finishing with back-to-back bogeys.
For his part, Woods said the problems started on the driving range, when he noticed bad habits creeping in before the day began. The result was a pieced-together swing, he said, with some new mechanics mixed with the old.
"Old patterns. Yeah, just old patterns," Woods said when asked about his mechanics following the round, before elaborating a bit. "Some of my old stuff from a few years ago. So I've had to try and kind of work through it, and every now and again it pops up. And today it popped up a little bit."
"As soon as I'm done, I'm going over there," Woods added while motioning toward the driving range.
An example of Woods' struggles off the tee is below in the video. On No. 2, after opening the round with a dead-left tee shot on the first hole, Woods again missed left off the tee. His feet -- typically quiet -- are shifting quite a bit as he transitions into his downswing. He also seems to have a steeper downswing than he has had recently. Woods' indecision proves costly as he double-crosses the ball and sends it straight into the trees down the left-hand side for the second-straight hole.
After revamping his mechanics and swing with Sean Foley, Woods has been leaning on a cut shot more often than not. When he's missing way left, on holes that require a draw and those that don't, it's clear something is off. Woods was caught between playing that baby cut -- his new shot shape -- and working a draw -- shades of his old swing. Put the two together and you've got a ball flight that goes dead left, a place nobody wants to be at Augusta National.
It's been a recurring problem for Woods as he continues the process of refining his swing once again. It's a process, as Woods often refers to his own makeover, that's been painful at times, filled with rocky moments and horrible shots. When he starts to think too much about his swing mechanics, making tweaks on the fly, his game quickly goes off the rails.
On Thursday, it appears Woods was fighting himself as much as the golf course. As Bobby Jones, co-founder of The Masters once said, "Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course: the space between your ears." As he teed off on No. 1, and throughout the day, Woods struggled with the five-and-a-half-inch course between his ears, as well as the expansive track in front of him.
There was good news for Woods, though. Even as his swing failed him and old habits crept back in, Woods' ability to scramble never left. He was able to drain a few long par putts, work some magic around the green and get out of self-inflicted trouble time and again. A few slip-ups, notably at the end of the round notwithstanding, Woods squeezed as much out of the day as seemed possible.
Woods' opening round at The Masters was far from the end of the world, and it does not leave him in a poor position with three rounds to go. In fact, Woods has always started slow at Augusta National, shooting 70 or above in each of his four Masters wins. In 2005, the last time he won a green jacket, Woods opened with a 74, only to rebound with two rounds in the 60s and a playoff win over Chris DiMarco.
Despite his struggles, Woods is just five shots back of Lee Westwood, and part of a large group in a tie for 29th. As Woods plodded along and fought through his swing troubles, many of the world's best were doing the same. Call it a case of the opening round jitters or Augusta National chewing up elite golfers and spitting them out.
But don't count out Woods, who always seems to find himself in contention at The Masters, even when things aren't going as well as he'd hope.
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