Tiger Woods got off to a solid start with four birdies in his first seven holes and had not missed a fairway and only three greens well into Thursday’s first round at Royal Lytham. And then he got to the 15th tee and after one errant shot, faced the possibility of playing himself out of the 2012 British Open.
As if to prove his pre-tourney complaint that England’s record-breaking wet weather had made the dreaded rough “almost unplayable,” Woods’ errant tee shot found the deep, wispy fescue with the treacherous soggy grass underneath. Again, as if on cue, Woods stood in the knee-high fescue and took a mighty swipe at the ball, which, after the lush, sodden grasses and vines caught his iron’s shaft and hossel and shut the club face, moved maybe 120 yards, but farther left into the same gunge.
If the analysts at ESPN were right, It looked like curtains for Woods’ chances to win his 15th major.
“He can really hurt his chances here,” Paul Azinger said as Woods surveyed his next shot from the deep stuff. “This is a big moment. ... It’s early on but this may be one of those moment when you look back on the week and ask is this where it all went away.”
Perhaps if Woods comes up one shot short on Sunday, he’ll point to Thursday’s adventure on 15 as the reason. But despite Curtis Strange opining that “there’s not much you can do” from where the ball resided in about five inches of healthy grass below the wispy fescue, Woods wound up with a massive back swing and made a steep, hard swing with a short follow-through and muscled the ball onto the green.
“The rough actually grabbed the shaft and turned it down, it didn’t get to the hossel part of it it, grabbed the shaft, so I didn’t have a chance,” Woods told ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi after his round. “The first [lie] was worse. [The second] one was decent. I felt like I could at least get to the front edge of the green.”
That he did, and though he could not sink the long par putt, he would have to consider a five to be a good bogey after his errant tee shot. Three tidy pars to finish put Woods at 3-under 67 -- just three shots back of morning-wave leader Adam Scott, who flirted with a 62.
“I’m right there,” Woods said. “I’m only three back. Adam played a beautiful round of golf today and I’m right there.”
Scott, with Woods’ former caddie Steve Williams on the bag, knew he needed a birdie on the 18th to post the lowest-ever score in a major. He pulled his tee shot into the rough, however, and had to settle for a bogey and a 64.
Woods’ 67 by the way, was the same opening score he posted in 2006 at Hoylake, which just happens to be the last time he won an Open Championship.