Tiger Woods’ rusty short game got him in big enough trouble early into his first competitive round of golf in almost four months that the former world No. 1 made the turn at the Quicken Loans National in last place among the morning wave of players.
It was also his short game that lifted Woods out of the cellar when a late birdie binge (on three of his final six holes) enabled him to post a 3-over 74 on a difficult Congressional Country Club course that saw Ricky Barnes take just an early 4-under lead into the clubhouse.
"This golf course is playing tough. It's not too often that 4-under is leading," Woods told reporters after putting his latest comeback from an injury-related layoff in the books. "That's indicative of how difficult it is out there."
Tiger probably wishing his foundation was affiliated with Hartford at this point. #congressionalishard— Doug Ferguson (@dougferguson405) June 26, 2014
Woods contended that he played better than his score indicated, and he certainly did on the back nine, when he found five of six greens in regulation and was one for one in scrambling on his final six holes. Unfortunately, the host of this week’s tourney had to add his opening go-round, which saw him hit only five of 12 greens and go 0-for-2 in scrambling, to those stats.
Surprisingly, though Woods warned us earlier in the week that his long layoff after back surgery at the end of March had stripped him of his explosiveness, it was his play into and on the putting surfaces that suffered.
"I drove it great. I felt comfortable," said Woods, who noted that after hitting a "foul ball" on 18 during Wednesday’s pro-am, he fixed his grip and "piped it all the way through" on Thursday.
But returning to what he struggled with most during what has to be considered a rehab assignment for the former ace, whose last outing resulted in a 78 in the final round at Doral on March 9 and, eventually, led him to the OR for his March 31 microdiscectomy.
"Yeah, definitely," Woods, who, under doctor’s orders, had been limited to minimal golf movements for some time after his procedure, said about what put him in an early hole. "Because that’s all I’ve been doing is chipping and putting."
Woods noted specifically how awful his putt on the par-4 11th (his second hole and second consecutive bogey of the day) had been, but he also mentioned several other instances where the rust of his hiatus was evident.
"I had four up and downs right there on 15 through 18 and I didn’t get any of them up and down. I had an easy pitch on two, don’t get that up and down, had wedge in my hand on three and jerk it in the bunker," he recited.
Tiger's obscenity game not rusty after missed six footer for birdie at 16th.— Brendan Porath (@BrendanPorath) June 26, 2014
"You saw the putt I hit on 11, it was awful. I left it 10 to 12 feet short," said Woods, who was at 4-over and DFL after nine and lost two more shots before turning things around on his 13th hole (the par-4 fourth).
"I hit some bad shots, bad pitches, and those are ones I should get up and down every time."
Expected Tiger to be rusty. Didn't expect his game to be embalmed. Plus 6?— Dave Shedloski (@DaveShedloski) June 26, 2014
Most important for the 14-time major champion, who has work to do to make it to the weekend in what he has said would be his only competitive tuneup prior to the Open Championship in just three weeks, was the state of his spine.
"The back’s great. I had no issues at all. No twinges, no nothing. It felt fantastic," said Woods, who added he was stable and healthy enough to "let it go" off the tee.
"I hit it pretty hard out there," he said.