February 23, 2018

Tiger Shoots Even in Windy Opening Round at Honda

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Calling it his best ball-striking round of the year, Tiger Woods forged an even-par 70 in windy conditions on Thursday in the first round of the Honda Classic at PGA National Resort & Spa.

“Pretty pleased,” he said. “It was a tough day for all of us.”

An early back nine starter, Woods was tied for 19th, four strokes behind clubhouse leaders Alexander Noren and Webb Simpson, who shot 66.

Paired with Patton Kizzire and Brandt Snedeker, Woods hit 7 of 14 fairways, 10 of 18 greens and used 27 putts. But the statistics were misleading.

Players were challenged by 20-mile-per-hour gusts and short putts were dicey. Woods missed several fairways by inches and had only one bad hole, finishing with three birdies, 13 pars, one bogey and a double-bogey.

“I’m really not that far away,” said Woods. “I’m starting to really get a feel for scoring again and scoring in tournaments and today was a day that I’m very proud of because I missed the ball in the correct spots.”

That wasn’t the case last week at the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club, where he missed the cut in his second start of 2018.

On Thursday, Woods used driver five times and found one fairway. But he was mostly spot on with his 3-wood and long irons.

“I had pretty good control of my shots all day,” Woods said. “It felt very solid.”

Woods got the start he wanted by making birdies at 11 (19 feet) and 13 (5 feet) to reach the top of the leaderboard. He made his lone bogey at the treacherous par-4 16th, the middle hole of the famed Bear Trap (15-16-17), a tribute to designer Jack Nicklaus. But Woods parred 17 and 18 to turn in 1-under.

Woods surrendered two shots at the par-5 third, his 12th hole of the day. After driving near the lip of a fairway bunker, he gouged his second well back, saw his 6-iron get knocked down by the wind and finish short in a greenside bunker, hit a nice sand shot that failed to reach the putting surface, chipped to four feet, and missed the putt, losing his balance in the breeze.

“That’s the way it goes,” he said.

Woods called the next hole his best of the day. Torn between driving with a 2 or 3-iron on the 392-yard down-wind par-4, he took something off the 2 and flushed it 292 yards, leaving himself in perfect position. Woods capitalized with an important bounce-back birdie by flagging a 60-degree sand wedge six feet from the pin.

“That felt really good,” said Woods.

So did his putter.

“I only made two putts,” he said. “But these greens are a little bit scratchy and it’s tough to make them.”
Woods’ short game was solid. He got up and down six times for pars, most tap-ins.

On Friday, he starts his second round on the first tee at 12:35 p.m. ET with Kizzire and Snedeker.

“I’m trying to get more efficient at what I’m doing under the gun, under the pressure of having to hit golf shots, and this course is not forgiving whatsoever,” said Woods.

Prior to his early starting time in the pro-am Wednesday morning, Woods met 17-year-old Kevin Shanahan, a driving range volunteer. Caddie Joe LaCava heard that he was student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in nearby Parkland, where 17 students were killed last week in the second-deadliest shooting at a U.S. Public School. When Woods found out, he invited him over.

“Meeting him brings you right back to reality,” said Woods, a South Florida resident and father of two young children. “Think about what he has to deal with and what he has seen and things he has to deal with for the rest of his life.”

Woods chatted with Shanahan, autographed a hat and posed for a picture.
“It was really a majority of me thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’m getting this signed by Tiger Woods,’ ’’ Shanahan said. “But it really felt like he talked from his heart. It didn’t feel scripted. It felt like it really came from him being sincere and saying, ‘I’m really sorry that you’re going through this,’ and it made me feel awesome.”

There was nothing scripted about it.

“It’s humbling that he wanted to meet,” said Woods. “But he was out here, wanting to get away from it, wanting to enjoy it, and it was nice to be able to help him enjoy being out here. When he leaves here, he has to go back to a pretty harsh reality.”

Players are honoring the victims this week by wearing ribbons on their shirts and hats.

“It’s just a shame what people are doing now, and all the countless lives we’ve lost for absolutely no reason at all,” Woods said. “It’s just a shame, and what they have to deal with, at such a young age, the horrible tragedy they are going to have to live with and some of the things they’ve seen just don’t go away.”