For much of his first round at the 2013 PGA Championship, Tiger Woods didn't play poorly. In fact, if you only saw Woods off the tee or on the greens, there were times where he looked downright great.
After carding a two-under 33 on his first nine—the back nine at Oak Hill as Woods began off the 10th tee on Thursday—the top-ranked golfer in the world struggled coming home to finish one over par, six strokes behind the leader at the time he finished his round.
After his double-bogey finish at the ninth hole, Woods "politely declined" to speak on camera with the television crew, but did talk with the assembled media following his round.
"I feel like I played well today and made some nice key putts," Woods said (via ASAP Sports Transcripts), "and the key is I left it in all the good spots too. I left it right where I wanted to leave them, so I had some free runs at putts, especially the par putts."
As Steve DiMeglio of USA Today noted, on his first nine Woods saved par from eight, four, three, four and five feet after missing the green in regulation, so the notion of Woods leaving the ball right where he wanted it may have been a bit rose colored.
If Woods is going to compete for the Wanamaker Trophy at Oak Hill, he may need to tweak his strategy a bit. This may not play like other major championships, where the title will go to whichever player was able to successfully grind out the most holes.
Oak Hill is set up for scoring and the player who hits the best shots will probably be the one who wins.
In a way, Oak Hill is set up in a rather straightforward way for today's majors—where hitting fairways and greens can give a player a relatively stress-free round, as major championship rounds might go. Woods never afforded himself the chance at that stress-free round, mostly because he wasn't hitting enough fairways and greens.
Early in his first round, Woods gave himself chances to score. As he said, he was putting the ball in the right spots. But his approach shots rarely landed on the putting surface, negating the entire strategy of playing as safely as he was.
Woods missed seven of the first nine greens on Thursday, and his seven one-putts on those holes were certainly a product of those misses. It's much easier to one putt a green, after all, when you miss it from the fairway and knock the next shot close to save par.
Out of context, the first nine for Woods was a typical major championship grind. It just didn't feel like it had to be. Other players on the course in the morning session were making shots as Woods ground his round out, with some treating the difficult Oak Hill course like it was a typical Thursday at any other stop on Tour.
Jim Furyk got his score to six under par before dropping a shot at his final hole to, ahem, settle for 65. David Hearn was five under par through 15 holes before dropping a shot at his last hole as well. Four other players carded scores of 67 and more than 20 in the early session finished the first round under par.
Now, granted, had Woods made par on his last hole, he too would have been under par for the round. An unfortunate lie can change everything at Oak Hill, as Woods later explained about his adventures at the ninth hole (Via ASAP).
I was completely blocked out and tried to shape one over there and I drew no lie at all from my third shot. And I was just trying to play 20 feet long and putt back and try and just get bogey. I didn't even get over the bunker.
Woods smartly laid back off the tee all day in an attempt to stay out of the punitive rough. But maybe it was too smart, even for someone as analytical as Woods can be in the majors.
Keeping the ball in the fairway is prudent, but there were times when Woods seemed so far back that perhaps taking a few risks off the tee would have been a more favorable play, or at least produced a more favorable result.
Woods said before the tournament that he could pull driver on as many as five holes around Oak Hill, depending on the pin placement and conditions. The conditions could not have been better for Woods to score, but he only used his driver once. Certainly, on the hole he did use it, pulling driver didn't help and he bogeyed the par-5 4th hole.
It will be interesting to see if his strategy with the driver changes as the week goes on. Certainly when he decides to take more risk could depend on the conditions, or how far back he is from the leaders.
Woods will have the benefit of playing in the late group on Friday, affording him the opportunity to know what number he'll need to score to be in contention heading into the weekend. Of course, playing later in the day could provide windier conditions, which may limit his ability to take risks on Oak Hill's narrow fairways and small greens.
It sounds counter-intuitive in a major, but no matter what club Woods pulls, it may benefit him to take a few more chances at the pins. He needs to trust his game more than his yard book.
Woods seems far more optimistic, however, telling reporters, "I'm still right there; as of now I'm only six back and we have a long way to go." (Via Robert Lusetich)
There is a long way to go at the PGA Championship and certainly there's need to panic. Perhaps, though, there might be a need for Woods to loosen up.
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