Tiger Woods' underwhelming start to the 2014 season continued on Thursday, when he carded a sloppy 1-over first round of 71 at the Honda Classic. The Palm Beach stop just 20 minutes from Tiger's new(ish) South Florida home is only his second PGA Tour (third worldwide) event of the year, and the world No. 1 repeatedly stated that this start of the Florida swing was a prep period for Augusta and the Masters.
Woods, who was not at all ready for his opening event at Torrey Pines a month ago, hit a few bumps off the tee and failed to capitalize on multiple early birdie opportunities with his putter. Tiger started the round by striping it down the fairway on his first four holes, and then hitting his greens in regulation for runs at red numbers. But the putter failed to convert, as Woods struggled with the speed for repeated two-putt pars, including one two-putt from inside 10 feet. Woods said he had "four good looks" with "pretty easy putts" but he came away empty-handed.
After seven straight pars. Woods finally picked up his first birdie of the day on No. 18, a par-5. It was on the par-5s that he was startlingly bad at Torrey Pines, failing to make birdie in his truncated three-day missed cut showing in San Diego. Dominating the par-5s has always been Woods' most reliable path to victory, as he stacks up birdies and runs away from an overpowered field. At the 18th on Thursday, Tiger went for it in two and came up short in a green-side bunker. He hit a quality blast out of the sand, and the putter finally rolled true from about eight feet to get into red figures (via PGATour.com):
Tiger would quickly give that back, and more, on the second hole as he hit a bumpy stretch off the tee.
Tiger has pulled three tee shots over last five holes, none of them driver. Last pull at No. 3 could lead to first bogey today.— Randall Mell (@RandallMellGC) February 27, 2014
He found big trouble at No. 2 when a wayward tee shot forced an awkward stance on a recovery shot. The result was something you rarely see from Woods -- he duff'd it!
Wow. Don't see that often. Settles in for an uncomfortable stance under the tree, takes a wide base and ... Tops it.— GC Tiger Tracker (@GCTigerTracker) February 27, 2014
Yikes, topping the ball usually means a crooked number is coming, and Woods didn't exactly light it up after that. He pulled his next shot into a bunker at No. 2, then hit a mediocre sand shot and missed a 12-foot bogey "save." The double bogey dropped him into the black, and that's where he'd stay for the rest of the round.
Tiger played out the remaining seven holes at even-par, with two bogeys and two birdies on a shaky second nine. He made an easy two-putt birdie on the third hole for his second straight red number on the par-5s, a marked improvement from the disaster at Torrey Pines. The putter, however, went bad again at the par-3 5th hole, when Woods missed his shortest putt of the day -- a three-and-a-half footer that he decelerated badly on:
After those two more intervening bogeys, Woods made a huge moderate-length birdie putt on his last stroke of the day to get back to 1-over. It's stupid to characterize anything as a must-make in the first round, but that last putt may mitigate some of the ugliness of his final two-plus hours out on the course. His final card, via PGATour.com:
When he finished at 1-over, Tiger was six shots off the pace. His playing partner, Zach Johnson, overcame a quadruple bogey on his second hole of the day with seven birdies to get back in it. So there were chances for red numbers out there, but Tiger, mostly due to the putter, never could get it going. Following the shocking third-round 79 and missed cut at Torrey, we expected a much different and reloaded Woods this week. His round on Thursday was nothing like that mess, aside from the topped punch and double at No. 2, but we're still waiting for the five-win No. 1 player in the world from 2013 to show up this year.