Tiger Woods came up one birdie shy of his single-round PGA Tour-best 10, but jarring nine was good enough for the world’s second-best golfer to cruise to a five-way share of Friday’s first-round lead at the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
Woods, who fired a 6-under 66 as beleaguered playing partner Rory McIlroy scuffled to a 73, wasted no time in giving credit where it was due for his sparkling short game on a gorgeous day when TPC Blue Monster played more like an angel than a beast.
"Whatever Strick says, I'm gonna do,” Woods told Golf Channel after his round. “That dude is one of the best putters that's ever lived.”
Woods was referring to old friend Steve Stricker, who on Wednesday spent an hour on the practice green helping his Ryder and Presidents Cup partner regain the short stroke he used to win the Farmers Insurance Open in January. With Stricker playing a reduced schedule this season, Woods joked that he might have to add the 46-year-old to Team Tiger.
"I think I'm going to have a contract with him because he's only going to play, what, five tournaments this year," Woods quipped, according to PGATour.com’s Brian Wacker. "I'll bring him out in his off weeks."
Not a bad idea. Coming off a T37 at last week’s Honda Classic, where he left a bunch of birdies on the course, Woods sought out a player whose recent stats belie his stature as one of the best putters on tour. The result, which was aided by a hole-out from off the green at No. 4, was a total of 23 putts -- including 11 one-putts -- for Woods, who found seven of 14 fairways and 13 greens in regulation.
“He knows my stroke really well and he basically got me into position where I look like I kind of did at Torrey,” Woods said about Stricker after pumping in birdie putts from distances that ranged from tap-ins to some 38 feet.
Faring not nearly so well was the newest member of Tiger’s posse, though two birdies on his last three holes helped McIlroy save his day from spiraling completely out of control. In his first round since Wednesday’s apology for withdrawing from last week’s event, the world No. 1 seemed to pick up where he left off in his other two-plus outings of the season.
Following a missed cut in Abu Dhabi, a first-round loss in match play, and that WD, McIlroy and his errant swing found only three fairways and 11 greens.
“It was a bit of a struggle, to be honest. I hit some good shots, I hit some not-so-good shots,” McIlroy, who will at least have three more rounds to work on his game in the no-cut contest, told reporters. "It was nice to sneak in a couple birdies on the last few holes and make it look somewhat respectable....It’s a work in progress.”
Stricker, by the way, missed a short birdie putt of his own on 18 to finish one shot off the pace set by Woods and four others, including reigning Masters champ Bubba Watson
Might a session with Tiger on the practice green be in order?
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