Woods' opener strong, but iron play held him back

February 09, 2012
Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- There's an old saying in baseball that you can tell a lot about a team's season by how the first play goes. If the same is true in golf, then it could be a pretty good one for Tiger Woods.


On the first hole of Woods' first PGA TOUR event of 2012, his approach shot on the par-4 10th nearly traded paint with the flagstick to set up an easy birdie.

That, however, was probably the best iron shot of Woods' day -- "I drove it great; unfortunately didn't do a very good job getting it to the greens," he said after a 4-under 68 Thursday that leaves him five shots back of leaders Danny Lee, Charlie Wi and two-time AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am winner Dustin Johnson.

Getting on the green wasn't as much of a problem as where Woods was leaving it. He hit 14 greens in regulation, but the par-4 sixth was a microcosm of his ball-striking troubles.

With a wedge in his hand, Woods tried to keep the shot down and take spin off the ball. Instead, he got caught between shot selections and the ball barely reached the green, leaving him with some 75 feet to the hole.

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Woods two-putted to save par, but he needed to hole a 12-footer to do so.

"In retrospect, I should have fired right of the flag," Woods admitted. "It's an easier area to hit to and I would have had an uphill, left-to-right putt."

That said, very little actually went wrong for Woods, especially when you consider the lowest score of the day on Spyglass Hill -- the most difficult of the three courses in the rotation here -- was a 66 by Nick Watney.

In other words, while Woods is tied for 15th on the leaderboard, it's more like he's in the top 10 since only six of the names ahead of him played at Spyglass on Thursday.

"[Friday] will be an important day to put it together and make some birdies," Woods said.

Woods made his share Thursday with six birdies and just two bogeys, and he knows more are out there on the other two courses. Johnson, for example, had six birdies and two eagles on Pebble Beach.

The other key for Woods is patience.

Just as he had to have it with the swing changes he's been working on for two years to get to this point, he needed some in a round that stretched nearly six hours on Thursday.

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"You have to have to the right mindset," said Woods, who is playing in this tournament for the first time since 2002. "There are going to be delays out there. Just like it was when we played the old U.S. Open and we all started off the first tee. It's no different."

Woods' results might not be different, either -- if he can figure out the distance control on his short irons the rest of the week.

He missed just two fairways and took only 29 putts, so clearly everything else was clicking.

Woods has history at Pebble Beach, too, having won this event (and the U.S. Open) in 2000. His 68 Thursday was also his second-best career round on Spyglass, where he'd previously broken 70 just once (he shot 66 in 2001) in six previous trips to the Monterey Peninsula.

Much was made about Woods hitting just six fairways and two greens in the final round in his last start in Abu Dhabi, where he had a share of the 54-hole lead only to finish third.

But the progression has been evident -- even if it's been slow at times -- and it was again in the opening round here.

"I feel comfortable because of my practice sessions," Woods said. "I'm able to actually practice, which I hadn't been able to for a very long time."

If Woods can find that same comfort on the course the rest of his week, he'll have plenty to be happy about come Sunday.