July 30, 2015

Tiger opens Quicken Loans National on positive note

Tiger Woods shook off a rough start to shoot a 3-under-par 68 in the first round of the $6.7 million Quicken Loans National on Thursday at hot and muggy Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville, Virginia.

Woods, who also serves as the tournament host, bogeyed three of the first four holes, but played the last 14 holes at 6-under and did not make another bogey on the soft, rain-soaked course, where players posted low scores Thursday. He is tied for 27th, five strokes behind co-leaders Retief Goosen and Ryo Ishikawa.

“That’s what scoring is all about,” said Woods. “I made a lot of key putts today. I ran them by the hole but I made all the comebacks, and overall, I felt like I hit the ball well enough to turn it around. It was nice to actually turn it around.”

Tiger was coming off a missed cut two weeks ago at the Open Championship at St. Andrews. He took last week off and went scuba diving with his two children in the Bahamas, then was the first player on the practice tee at 7 a.m. on Monday at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club.

“It was important for me to get out here and play because everything in West Palm is closed,” he said. “Everything is being torn up.”

Despite a tough season, Woods said he didn’t press after the poor opening start.

“I didn’t do anything different,” said Tiger. “I said ‘stay patient and it will turn,’ which it did.”

A two-time winner of the tournament, Woods was a late starter with former winners Nick Watney (2011) and Bill Haas (2013). Five minutes before their tee time, play was suspended for 95 minutes due to thunderstorms in the area.

Once play resumed, Tiger bogeyed the par-4 first hole, where he drove into the left rough, found a greenside bunker and was unable to get up-and-down, lipping out a five-foot putt. After a two-putt par at No. 2, Woods bogeyed the par-4 third hole, where he missed the green with his approach, came up short again and got up-and-down for bogey.

Tiger dropped another shot at the par-3 fourth, three-putting from 46 feet. But he bounced back at the par-5 fifth, where his second shot missed the green left and received a favorable bounce off a marshal. After signing a glove for him, Woods nearly holed out his third shot, the ball rolling four feet past the hole, then converted for his first birdie of the round.

At the par-4 sixth, Tiger’s second shot ended up in the back bunker, where he hit a nice, downhill explosion shot within a few feet from the hole and knocked in the par-saving putt. Woods two-putted the par-4 seventh hole for a par.

Following a big drive at the par-5 eighth, Tiger hit a 5-wood off a downhill lie to the uphill green and wound up pin-high in the right bunker. Once again, he judged the sand shot perfectly, the ball settling five feet from the cup, and rolled in the birdie putt.

At the downhill par-3 ninth, Woods came up just short of the green and two-putted for a par from 24 feet to make the turn in 1-over 37.

Moving to the back nine, where temperatures were in the mid-80s, Tiger flushed an iron down the fairway at the par-4 10th, then flagged a wedge from 115 yards nine feet right of the hole and drilled home the birdie putt. He made it two in a row at the downhill par-3 11th, where he nestled a 7-iron seven feet left of the pin. Woods received a good read from Haas, who was on the exact same line, and poured the putt into the center of the cup.

At the 453-yard par-4 12th, playing the hardest on the course, he split the fairway with a fairway wood, then hit a 9-iron from 142 yards to two feet right of the hole and tapped in for his third-straight birdie. Tiger continued his hot streak at the 456-yard par-4 13th, where he drove into the right fairway bunker but caught a clean lie, then blasted an 8-iron from 156 yards about 12 feet right of the pin before sinking the putt. It marked the first time he has recorded four consecutive birdies since the second round of the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, which was also his last win on the PGA Tour.

Looking for five in a row, Woods hit a poor drive at the reachable-in-two 571-yard par-5 14th, finding the left fairway bunker. He was forced to lay up with his second shot, then spun a wedge back to the front of the green, where he ran his birdie attempt four feet past but made the par putt coming back.

After a good drive at the 460-yard par-4 15th, Tiger hit his second shot from 164 yards about 25 feet right of the hole and two-putted for a par. Following a two-putt par at 16, Woods gave himself two good birdies looks on the par-4 17th and 18th holes, but missed from 11 feet and 16 feet, respectively.

Given his shaky start, he was pleased with his comeback and enthused about improving his position Friday in Round 2.

“We get fresh greens tomorrow,” he said. “Hopefully, I go out there and post a low one.”

 Tiger starts Friday on the 10th tee at 8:10 a.m. ET with Watney and Haas.