SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Four holes into his first tournament of the year, Tiger Woods already was 4-over par and 10 shots out of the lead in the Phoenix Open.
When he reached his tee shot on the par-4 fifth hole, he saw the golf ball partially sunken in a divot. Woods put his hands on his hips, closed his eyes and shook his head, wondering what else could possibly go wrong.
He couldn’t chip.
He made only one putt over 6 feet, which is misleading only because Woods had just three birdie attempts on the green from inside 20 feet.
He hit one tee shot off the wall of someone’s backyard, another in the desert that was marked by a hazard, and yet another that sailed into the gallery on a hill.
This was not the same Tiger Woods the crowd in Phoenix saw 14 years ago.
His last time at this tournament, Woods was No. 1 in the world by a mile and working his way toward Augusta National and a chance to sweep the majors, which he did. Now he is No. 47 in the world, coming off another injury-laden season, without a major in eight years.
He is 39. And he needs time.
“This is my second tournament in six months, so I just need tournament rounds like this where I can fight through it, turn it around, grind through it and make adjustments on the fly,” Woods said.
Woods came up with two big shots on the back nine to salvage a 2-over 73. That left him nine shots behind Ryan Palmer, who had a 64.
It was the first time in his career that Woods shot over par in his first round of the year.
There were a few bright spots.
He was toward the bottom of the leaderboard at 5 over through 12 holes when he hit 5-iron to tap-in range for eagle. With water down the left side and a perilous chip shot awaiting for anything to the right — the last thing he needed — Woods smoked a tee shot on the par-4 17th onto the green, pin-high to right, setting up a two-putt birdie.
And he made it through the par-3 16th hole without too much of an incident.
As he settled over his tee shot and was about to pull the trigger, someone in the stands screamed out, “Knock it in the tooth!” That was a reference to that photograph last week of Woods at a World Cup ski race in Italy missing his front tooth.
On his next try, someone else shouted, “Everybody quiet.”
Woods never lost his poise, hit the middle of the green and made par.
Even so, the focus shifted quickly from the chipped tooth to simply his chipping. Woods twice chipped with a 4-iron, opting to bump the ball instead of loft it. Both came up dreadfully short. One led to bogey, the other a double bogey when he three-putted from 20 feet on the fringe.
He clanked a routine chip some 15 feet by the hole for a bogey. He bladed one across the green at No. 9 and chose to use his putter to go back a slope.
Perhaps the greater indication of the state of his game is that no one was terribly surprised by the struggle, although the chipping is becoming a topic. Woods is working with a new swing consultant, trying to fashion a swing similar to his glory days. He says the change means trying to get rid of the old swing, even in his chipping.
This could be a process.
“It’s not the first time I have gone through this. It takes time,” Woods said. “It’s just a frustrating thing where I just need to get through competitive rounds. I need to get rounds out of my belt and get a feel for it. Eventually I start trusting it, start shaping shots, and then you just go play. Don’t worry about it a whole lot.”
His game was anything but super, but the atmosphere sure was.
The attendance was estimated at 118,461, breaking the Thursday record at the Waste Management Phoenix Open by just over 30,000. Woods and the Super Bowl in town are the reason for that. And while so much attention was on Woods for the opening round, other players benefited from the high-charged atmosphere.
Keegan Bradley and Masters champion Bubba Watson each shot 65, one shot out of the lead.
Watson hit a drive on the 17th that rolled inches by the hole. He missed the 5-foot eagle putt, but picked up an eagle on the third hole. There was a big crowd for that one, for Watson played in the group behind Woods.
“I could feel his crowd was really big,” Watson said. “You could feel it, the energy, even with the weather the way it was. People still showed up. People still had a blast. And obviously, Tiger created a lot of that.”
Bradley could sense it, too, even though he played on the opposite side of the draw. Bradley finished his round on No. 9 and hit what he thought was a great approach, except that he wasn’t sure because no one was clapping. He turned to his caddie and asked him if it went over the green, or maybe even short of the green. And then he walked up to the green and saw it was 10 feet away. That’s when the light came on.
“Tiger was on the second green. No one was watching me,” Bradley said with a laugh. “It’s just amazing to see the draw that Tiger has. Wow, there was a lot of people.”
They saw some good golf — just not very often from Woods.
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