Tiger Woods did something so rare on Thursday at the TOUR Championship that he had only done it six times in his entire career on the PGA Tour.
He played an entire tournament round without making a single birdie. 18 holes, 15 pars, three bogeys.
The world’s top player, and the man with the most control over who takes home the FedEx Cup championship and $10 million of bonus cash, struggled mightily in the first round at East Lake, and now sits in 29th place out of 30 after one round. Needless to say, this isn’t the type of opening that anybody expected for Woods.
If you were looking for a little bit of insight into what went wrong for Woods, you’ll have to wait until Friday, at least. Woods declined all media requests after his round, something I can’t recall happening any time in the last several years at least. Even when he’s struggled in other rounds, he’s at least had some positive, if a little too well-prepared, statements about how “I just didn’t hit it well” or how “sometimes it’s just not your day”. His silence is concerning, to say the least.
Woods struggled mightily with his putter on Thursday, but that was just one problem. He hit only 12 of 18 greens in regulation, and eight of 14 fairways. Possibly making the day a bit more difficult, Woods played with Henrik Stenson, who leads Woods by nine strokes overnight and is in prime position to take the season title from Woods’s grasp.
Stenson said after the round that he didn’t feel that Woods played particularly poorly. “I wouldn’t say he was playing bad,” Stenson told USA TODAY. “He missed a couple of times in the wrong spot. I mean, if you’re not making any birdies, then it’s going to be a bad day, simple as that. […]We know how small the margins are. He could have been 2-under or 1-under with the same play if you just take your opportunities.”
Woods now has a mountain to climb if he’s going to even get back into contention for the weekend. Woods’s love of familiar courses is well-known, and he’s always played well at East Lake, but he’s also struggled in the come-from-behind role.
Normally, I expect Woods to come back strong with this kind of fire lit under him, but there just weren’t any positives to build on from Thursday. Tiger can’t win the tournament on Friday, but he must get his putter in line quickly to have any chance of making the comeback.