Tiger Woods started his week at Torrey Pines discussing the work he's been able to put in on his short game. Woods, who's still in the "process" of fully adopting a Sean Foley-redesigned swing with consistent success, said during his Tuesday press conference that he felt comfortable enough with the new swing at the end of last season that he transitioned to working more on his short game.
It was that short game, particularly out of the sand, that led to a successful first round at the 2013 Farmers Insurance Open. Woods, who has historically been an average player out of bunkers, was a perfect four-for-four on sand saves, including three splashed wedges out of the bunker during a five-hole stretch that he played 5-under.
Tiger started his week at Torrey on the more difficult South Course by posting a 68, slotting in at 4-under with the vulnerable North Course in front of him on Friday. Only four players, including co-leader K.J. Choi, had better rounds on the South Course. Woods was understated when discussing the round afterwards, saying the conditions -- little wind, and receptive greens -- opened the South up for that kind of number.
Woods had some reasons to be subdued, and he could certainly point to some instances where less-than-sharp driving or ball-striking left some shots out on the course. He continues to miss with the driver, starting the day with three-straight drives left and out of fairway. But he managed to overcome those misses and play those three holes at 1-under. On No. 4, however, he made a mess. His drive was once again off the fairway, but this time his approach shot sprayed into the gallery. A three-putt led to a double-bogey and it appeared that he might be in for a slog of an opening round.
But Woods promptly turned his fortunes around with his short game, rolling in a 12-foot putt on No. 5 to get back to even. Things took off at No. 6, when Woods knocked his approach into a bunker on the right side of the green. But with a nice, slightly uphill lie, he splashed out and rolled it in for eagle. Video of the shot:
On the next hole, Woods hit his approach shot in another greenside bunker but got up-and-down out of the trap after he hit it within two feet (nearly sinking it again as the ball rolled just past the hole). The short game magic continued, as he drilled a putt form 13 feet on No. 8 and then hit another bunker shot within four feet on No. 9 to finish the front side with back-to-back birdies. It was a five-under, five-hole stretch full of excellent work on and around the green, and it moved him within one shot of the lead at the time.
Woods cooled off a bit on the back side. He typically misses left with the driver, although he sent a couple drives way right on the back nine. Torrey Pines, however, is a course where he is comfortable enough playing out of the long grass and he handled it well again on Thursday -- even making birdie on No. 12 after his drive went so far right that things opened up enough for him to go over the top of the trees and make birdie. On No. 15, however, another drive into the trees on the right resulted in bogey.
It looked like Woods might give back three shots coming in, but after another bogey on 17, he made one more sand save on 18 to stay at 4-under. Tiger came out of the bunker behind the green, and then steadily rolled in a seven-foot putt to save on the par-5. He putted fairly well last week in Abu Dhabi, and that continued on Thursday in La Jolla, setting up a potentially huge weekend at an event that he's owned.
At 4-under, Woods is in prime position to play in the final groups on the weekend. Even after a redesign that has added length, almost every single hole on the North Course is capable of being birdied, and he'll have an opportunity to go low. Woods said after the round just how low will depend on the weather, which held off on Thursday, despite forecasted winds. "With no wind, guys are going to shoot some low scores over [on the North Course]," he said. "Hopefully tomorrow, the weatherman will get it wrong again and we can go out there and have some conditions like this. It depends on the weather -- it's supposed to blow and rain, but that didn't materialize today."
In the Foley swing era with Tiger, it is dangerous to predict anything. But with the quality work put in on Thursday, a big Friday on the North Course and a trip to the top of the leaderboard likely lies ahead.