Tiger struggles in wind, fades off Open pace

Tiger struggles in wind, fades off Open pace

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Tiger Woods‘ opening round at the 150th Open Championship started Thursday with a perfect tee shot in a fresh divot in the middle of the fairway, which led to a double-bogey on the first hole at the Old Course at St. Andrews.

Unfortunately for the 15-time major champion, it didn’t get much better from there. By the time it ended about six hours later, Woods had carded a 6-over 78. He was 14 shots behind leader Cameron Young.

It was a disappointing beginning for Woods, who is playing in only his third official tournament this season. After finding his opening tee shot in a divot, Woods’ second shot caught a strong gust of wind. His ball ended up in a burn in front of the green. After a drop, Woods made a nice chip shot to about 3 feet, but missed the short putt and made a double-bogey 6.

“Well, probably [the] highest score as I could have shot,” Woods said. “[I] didn’t get off to a great start. … But in a round sometimes it just goes that way. It just goes one way and it never seems to come back, no matter how hard you fight.”

Woods said he compounded his bad luck by never adjusting to the speed of the Old Course’s greens, which he said were slower than its fairways. A three-putt for bogey on No. 4 left him at 4 over after four holes.

“I think I had maybe four or five three-putts [Thursday],” Woods said. “Just wasn’t very good on the greens and every putt I left short. I struggled with hitting the putts hard enough. They looked faster than what they were putting, and I struggled with it.”

Woods, a two-time winner of The Open at St. Andrews in 2000 and 2005, was tied for 146th among 156 players in the field after the first round. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the only other time Woods was in worse position after the first 18 holes in a major was the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, when he shot 10-over 80 and was tied for 152nd.

“It feels like I didn’t really hit it that bad,” Woods said. “Yes, I did have bad speed on the greens. But I didn’t really feel like I hit it that bad, but I ended up in bad spots. Or just had some weird things happen, and just the way it goes. Links is like that and this golf course is like that. And as I said, I had my chances to turn it around and get it rolling the right way and I didn’t do it.”

The good news for Woods is that he said the walk on the Old Course was easier than it was during the opening rounds of the Masters in April and the PGA Championship at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in May. He said his surgically repaired right leg is stronger now that it’s been more than 16 months since he was seriously injured in a car wreck outside Los Angeles in February 2021.

The bad news is he’ll have fewer than 13 hours to recover and get ready for the second round. He is scheduled to tee off at 4:58 a.m. ET on Friday with U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick and Max Homa.

Homa, who had tweeted earlier this week about his excitement to be in the same grouping as Woods, called Thursday “the coolest fricking day I’ve ever had on a golf course” while shooting a 1-over 73.

“He’s the GOAT for a reason,” Homa said. “He was very, very nice. It was a really fun day. It was a dream-come-true-type day minus some of the golf. It really felt like fantasy.”

Woods, 46, said he would probably have to shoot a 6-under 66 to stick around for the weekend at St. Andrews. Only two players, Young (8-under 64) and Rory McIlroy (6-under 66), did that Thursday.

“Obviously, it has been done,” Woods said. “Guys did it [Thursday] and that’s my responsibility [Friday] to go ahead and do it. Need to do it.”

After struggling mightily on the first eight holes, Woods started to turn things around on the short par-4 ninth. He drove his 379-yard tee shot through the green, chipped to about 8 feet and made a birdie putt to move to 5-over. Walking off the green, Woods smiled, licked his finger and motioned it like a slam dunk.

Then Woods made another birdie on the par-4 10th hole. After knocking his tee shot 306 yards down the middle of the fairway, his approach shot to about 3 feet was his best of the round. He sank a birdie putt to improve to 4 over. Woods gave back one shot, however, on the par-3 11th hole, when his nine-foot par putt slid past the hole. He made another bogey with a three-putt on the par-4 13th.

Woods’ best hole might have been the par-5, 616-yard 14th. He ripped a 412-yard drive down the middle — the longest drive by any player on the day — and hit the green from 188 yards. He two-putted from about 75 feet for a birdie.

Despite his disappointing score, Woods said he was glad to be back at The Open. He has acknowledged that it might be the last time he gets to play in one at St. Andrews.

“Very, very meaningful,” Woods said. “All things considered, where I’ve been, I was hoping I could play this event this year. Looking at it at the beginning of the year, end of last year when I was rehabbing, trying to see if I could do it, but somehow I was able to play two of the major championships in between then and now, which was great.

“But this was always on the calendar to hopefully be well enough to play it, and I am. And just didn’t do a very good job of it.”

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