Tiger Woods had a rough opening round in his quest to chalk up his 15th major championship, and the pun was intentional.
Woods, who Thursday night denied he had injured his left wrist during an abbreviated, rain-delayed start to the U.S. Open, found himself in the thick, wet grasses from the get-go, when he put his tee shot off No. 1 well right of the fairway. His first of several winces and wrist shakes came on his second shot out of the deep stuff but there was none of it when he returned to the course early Friday with compadres Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott to complete the initial 18.
"It’s fine," Woods told reporters Thursday about the wrist, which observers worried might lead to a quick withdrawal from the tournament.
ESPN reported Friday morning that the problem was actually in his elbow and not the wrist.
"Pain," he said after Friday’s finish about what he felt in his elbow.
Woods watchers have gotten used to the golfer’s many ailments, what with his oft-repaired knee, Achilles tendon, neck, and wrist woes, but ESPN’s Paul Azinger cautioned observers to give the guy a break.
"Tiger detractors," Azinger said, "say, ‘oh, he’s just a drama queen,’ but you could tell it was legitimate pain yesterday. It looked like the wrist to me...surprised to see it was the elbow."
Whether Woods’ issue turned out to be tennis or golf elbow, Azinger said it could take a while to heal.
"He may end up having a problem long-term," he said.
In addition to his physical condition, what really ailed the 14-time major champ was his game.
"He needed to do three things to play well," Golf Channel’s Frank Nobilo said Thursday night. "Had to drive the ball well, had to wedge it well, had to putt well. Three-putted two greens, didn’t really wedge it close, and hit the ball too many times out of the hay."
Woods, whose short stick had him ranked first in the tour’s strokes-gained category until his T65 turn at the Memorial Tournament earlier this month (he’s now fifth), let him down in his first round.
"I missed a boatload of putts," said Woods, who has yet to figure out the greens at Merion. "It was unbelievable how much faster they were this morning.
Things got no better Friday morning for the winner of 78 PGA Tour events who has not captured a major since 2008. After getting his day off with a four-foot par putt, he proceeded to bogey No. 12, rebounded briefly with a birdie on the next, but reverted to form on the par-3 17th.
"That pin on 12’s a little bit quick from above," Woods said, "and I barely hit mine and ran it by about eight feet."
For sure, he was clearly not happy as he weathered a delay on the 17th tee, and promptly put his shot in a deep green-side bunker. Another bogey ensued, and he finally finished his first round with a 3-over 73.
Tiger not really feelin' this long break, especially with this chilly weather. Not really chatting with anyone, arms crossed, brooding.— GC Tiger Tracker (@GCTigerTracker) June 14, 2013
"So, [Nos.] 1, 2, and 3 all write down ‘4’ on that 17th hole," said ESPN’s Mike Tirico.
Indeed, Woods’ marquee playing partners struggled Friday morning as well. Scott began the day just one shot back of Luke Donald’s clubhouse lead of 4-under, but a double-bogey at 15 and a bogey on 17 earned him a 72.
McIlroy continued his season-long scuffles, ending his round with consecutive bogeys and sharing 51st place with Woods and a slew of others.
As for Woods’ efforts to end his five-year major-less drought, FoxSports.com’s Robert Lusetich supplied these sobering statistics:
Only 4 times in his 78 wins on PGA Tour has Tiger gone on to win after an over par start. Opens #USOpen with 3 over 73.— Robert Lusetich (@RobertLusetich) June 14, 2013
Tiger's never started as high as 3 over & won a major. His last 2 wins he opened 1 over par; 2005 Masters started with 2 over. #USOpen— Robert Lusetich (@RobertLusetich) June 14, 2013
Azinger also suggested, during a recent teleconference, that the key to Woods’ eventual outcome would become apparent early on.
"When [Tiger’s] winning and hitting it poorly, you know, finishing last in fairways hit at Bay Hill, he has this air of confidence and this air of calm and patience; when he knows he doesn’t have it, he’s kicking clubs around and you can read his lips," Azinger said. "So I would look early on, and that comes from within, the pressure from within. So I would look early on to see if he’s frustrated early and he’s reacting, or he’s frustrated early and there’s no reaction."
Un-scientific analysis of Tiger's 73: he was mostly annoyed throughout round. At BayHill he hit it just ok but carried himself like a winner— Robert Lusetich (@RobertLusetich) June 14, 2013
The Big Three return for to see what fresh hell the second round has to offer at 10:44 a.m. ET off the 11th tee.