Tiger Woods looks like old self after first round at Arnold Palmer Invitational
Woods finished Thursday's round at 4 under in Orlando
March 15, 2018
By Jim McCabe, PGATOUR.COM
Tiger Woods' interview after Round 1 of Arnold Palmer
ORLANDO, Fla. – Birdies and eagles ignite the roars, but running off a stretch of bogey-free holes should be considered with more respect than a bowl of vanilla ice cream. They surely make PGA TOUR guys smile, which is why Tiger Woods was left in a sour mood early on his back nine in what would wind up being a 4-under 68 in Thursday’s first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard.
So crisp in hitting seven greens and turning at 3-under, Woods was near flawless for his first 11 holes, extending his stretch of bogey-free holes to 25, dating back to the final round of last week’s Valspar Championship. Then, an unexpected wild pitch. His tee shot at the difficult, dogleg left par-4 third drifted wide right and came to rest against netting.
Unfortunately, while the netting seemed to offer Woods a break, it did not.
“If you looked at the poles, I was out,” Woods said. Meaning out-of-bounds, meaning a long, expletive-filled trip back to the tee. He made his first double-bogey since the 15th hole in the final round of the Honda Classic.
But if double-bogeys can dampen the spirits, what is a sure-fire remedy is a pair of ensuing par-5s — which Woods took advantage of. Two shots got him to the back of the 567-yard fourth, two putts from 40 feet got him to 2 under, then at the 531-yard sixth that wraps around Lake Bay Hill — or whatever they call that massive body of water that once swallowed a few sleeve of John Daly golf balls — Woods took a gamble with a 35-yard wedge shot.
“It was a hard shot,” he said of what was left of a lay-up that was pushed right and mandated a shot to a hole cut tight to a bunker. There was little green to work with.
“I took a chance to play a spinner and I pulled it off,” Woods said.
Then at the par-3 seventh — the hole got in the way of what was meant to be a 71-foot lag putt — just like that, the two shots squandered at the third were a distant memory.
Tiger Woods drops 71-foot birdie putt at Arnold Palmer
As satisfying as those birdies were, what cemented the smile on Woods’ face was the 11-foot par-save at the par-4 ninth, “because I don’t think anybody wants to end with a bogey.”
The fact is, bogeys have not been part of Woods’ repertoire of late. If you are searching for ways to measure the improvements Woods has made in this latest comeback, consider this: He recorded eight bogeys in a second-round 76 last month at Riviera, but he has made eight bogeys in his last five rounds combined — and four came on demanding par-3s at the Innisbrook Resort last week.
For sure, Woods has found an impressive rhythm; he’s been par or better in seven consecutive rounds and since that choppy 76 at Riviera, he is 13 under for nine rounds on three watery and penal Florida golf courses — PGA National, Innisbrook and the Bay Hill Club & Lodge — and the swagger has returned.
“I think it’s just playing tournament golf,” Woods said, who has played 15 PGA TOUR rounds in 2018 after having competed in just two last season. “I’ve been away from it for so long that when I first came back it was just a matter of getting my feel for tournament golf again.
“I think I have (found it). I feel like I’m not really thinking as much around the golf course. I can just see and feel it and go and that’s just because I’ve got my ‘feels’ back again.”
If there was a key to his round, it wasn’t the three birdies in four holes after the sloppy double-bogey. Likely, it was back on his opening nine.
At the par-4 13th, Woods had to apologize to caddie Joe LaCava for pushing his approach 15 yards to the right of his intended line. Flirting with water, the ball stayed up. While it was a missed-green, the 17-foot putt from the fringe was center cut to get him to 2 under. He got one shot deeper into red numbers with a most fortunate break at the par-5 16th.
“Where did that hit?” Woods asked, needing an explanation for a drive that will go into the books as a 348-yarder. It shouldn’t, of course, because the ball rattled through the trees right of the fairway, hit hard dirt, then rolled down a cart path till he had but a 156-yard shot in. “(It was) nice to see, just a great break.”
Woods getting a break is just what the competition wants to hear. He is, of course, seemingly picking up where he left off at Bay Hill. Woods was 13-under in 2012 and again in 2013 when he won for the seventh and eighth times here, so despite missing each of the last four editions of this tournament he’s been under par in nine consecutive rounds here.
No, Woods wasn’t in the lead on Thursday. Not with Jimmy Walker posting a 67, thanks to a hole-out eagle at the demanding 18th, but nobody was going to dispute that it felt like old times.