February 09, 2012

Tiger opens PGA Tour season with solid first round

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Looking strong from start to finish, Tiger Woods shot a 4-under-par 68 Thursday at challenging Spyglass Hill Golf Course in the first round of the $6.4 million AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on the famed Monterey Peninsula. He is tied for 15th, five strokes behind Danny Lee, Charlie Wi and Dustin Johnson, who finished at 9-under.

Taking advantage of brilliant sunshine and near-perfect scoring conditions, Lee and Johnson played Pebble Beach Golf Links, while Wi posted his round on the Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula Country Club.

“This is generally the harder of the three courses,” said Woods, making his first PGA Tour start of 2012. “Hopefully the next two days I can get it going.”

Based on his play Thursday, there are positive signs. Woods hit 11 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens in regulation and used 29 putts. Three of his six birdies came on par-5s.

“I drove it great today,” he said. “I drove it on a string for most of the day. I left a few shots out there, for sure. I didn’t give myself enough looks when I had wedges in my hands. So I’m going to go work on that for a little bit and get ready for tomorrow.”

Paired with pro Arjun Atwal and amateurs Tony Romo and Danny Lane, Tiger began on the back nine and nearly eagled the 407-yard, par-4 10th hole, his second shot caroming off the pin and stopping three feet away for an easy birdie.

At the 528-yard, par-5 11th, Woods reached the green in two with an iron from 182 yards and just missed a 15-foot eagle attempt, the ball stopping two rolls short of the hole, dead-center. Still, he was off to a birdie-birdie start.

Following a two-putt par at 12, Woods bogeyed the tough 460-yard, par-4 13th, where he hit a poor tee shot into the left fairway bunker, resulting in a difficult stance. His approach came up short-right of the green and he wound up two-putting for a bogey from 10 feet, lipping out his par-saving try.

After pars at 14, 15 and 16, Woods struck again at the short, par-4 17th, a sharp dogleg left. He drove in the fairway and faced a blind, uphill second shot to a green that slants severely from back to front. Woods spun a sand wedge eight feet beyond the cup and poured in the speedy downhill birdie putt.

Woods made a nice par save at the par-4 18th. After splitting the fairway with his tee shot, he had only 129 yards left to the uphill putting surface and missed the green left. Faced with another downhill shot that broke sharply from right to left, Woods judged it well and chipped to three feet, then converted the putt to make the turn in 2-under 34.

Switching to the front nine, Woods made it two-in-a-row with a birdie at the picturesque 595-yard, downhill, par-5 first hole, where the backdrop is the Pacific Ocean and barking sea lions can be heard in the distance. After driving in the right rough, Tiger flushed an iron that carried over the back of the green, then hit a beautiful flop shot about 10 feet past the hole and buried the birdie putt.

Woods did well to two-putt the uphill, par-4 second hole from the back fringe, then birdied the downhill, 165-yard, par-3 third. His short iron tee shot rolled to the back fringe, but Tiger drained the left-to-right putt for an unexpected birdie.

He dropped a shot at the short but tricky, 320-yard, par-4 fourth. After finding the fairway with an iron off the tee, Woods misjudged his downhill second shot to the hourglass-shaped green and his ball flew over the back of the putting surface into a sandy waste area. Tiger was fortunate to have a decent lie, especially with nasty ice plant in the area, and blasted 25 feet past the hole and two-putted for a bogey.

Following a two-putt par at the par-3 fifth, Woods made another nice momentum-saving par putt at the uphill, par-4 sixth. He pounded a good drive at the par-5 seventh, where the left side of the green is guarded by water, then went for the green in two and was lucky his ball hung up on the bank above the hazard. Tiger took advantage of the break by wedging his third shot 15 feet to the right of the cup and made the birdie putt.

The uphill, par-4 eighth and par-4 ninth holes are never easy, especially with large, steep greens that slope from back to front.

Woods parred them both, just missing an 18-foot birdie bid at the latter.

All in all, a promising start for Woods, who tied for third two weeks ago in his 2012 debut at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

Woods and Romo, who are competing together in the pro-am portion of the AT&T, shot 65. Romo, a standout quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys and a scratch golfer, helped Woods three shots. The low 25 pro-am teams qualify for Sunday’s final round at Pebble Beach.

“He actually hit it pretty good today,” Woods said of Romo. “He had a couple of loose shots in there. The two amateurs in our group are both scratches, so they have to make natural birdies. That’s a tall order especially given the green speeds and the pressure. That’s something Tony’s used to, but this is a totally different arena now. He’s out of his element. Just like it would be for us to go on a football field and have a 350-pound guy chasing you with bad intentions.”

Woods and Romo move to Monterey Peninsula Country Club on Friday, where they start on the first tee at 12:17 p.m. ET.