February 02, 2017

Tiger struggles in first round of Omega Dubai Desert Classic

Two-time winner Tiger Woods had a rough start Thursday in the first round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club.

Making his second start of the year, he struggled to a 5-over-par 77, his highest opening score in seven previous appearances. Woods failed to record a birdie, carding 13 pars and five bogeys.

Sergio Garcia was the clubhouse leader with a 65.

An early-morning starter with defending champion Danny Willett and Matthew Fitzpatrick, Woods began on the back nine and made a mess of the par-5 10th hole. He pulled his drive way left into heavy rough, hit his second shot in the waste area, ran his third from 167 yards through the green into the back bunker and was unable to save par.

After a two-putt from long range at the par-3 11th hole, Tiger bogeyed the 476-yard, par-4 12th. His tee shot found the left rough, but he gouged his second just short of the green. Electing to putt from about 50 feet up the hill, Woods came up more than 20 feet short of the hole and two-putted from there.

Woods settled down and registered five consecutive pars. He gave himself good birdie looks at the par-3 15th and par-4 16th and 17th holes but was unable to capitalize.

At the picturesque 564-yard, par-5 18th, framed in the background by the towering city skyline, Tiger drove into the left rough and was forced to lay up short of the green, fronted by a lake. He did so nicely and was left with a delicate 100-yard shot to the front pin. Woods made solid contact, but the ball landed just short of the putting surface and spun back down the slope into the water. He did well to get up and down for a bogey, sinking a 10-foot putt, and turned in 3-over 37.

Moving to the front nine, Tiger posted three consecutive pars. He made a nice par save from behind the green at the par-4 second hole, then squandered a great birdie chance at the 568-yard, par-5 third. Woods crushed his tee shot and knocked his second just over the green. He hit an indifferent pitch 10 feet short of the pin and missed the putt.

Tiger nearly broke through with his first birdie at the par-3 fourth after a nice tee shot, but burned the left edge of the cup from 15 feet. Then he stumbled.

At the par-4 fifth, Woods hit a good drive, but his approach from 149 yards finished on the front of the green, leaving a lengthy, uphill, right-to-left putt. Tiger powered his birdie attempt seven feet beyond the hole and missed coming back.

He encountered more difficulty at the par-4 sixth. Woods drove into the right rough, came up short with his approach and landed in the front bunker, blasted to five feet and missed his par putt.

Tiger made a smooth swing off the tee at the par-3 seventh, but couldn’t convert his birdie bid from 12 feet. At the par-5 eighth, he pounded a long drive, but again came up shy of the green with his second shot. Woods chipped to five feet and salvaged par.

On the par-4 ninth hole, Tiger unleashed another big drive and hit a fine approach shot within 12 feet of the pin. Once again, he came close, but couldn’t finish off his birdie putt. 

Afterward, Woods said he was disappointed with his ball striking and putting but refused to blame it on fatigue or health. Despite some reports, he had no back issues.

Tiger wound up hitting nine of 14 fairways — the highlight of the day — but reached only 11 greens in regulation. He also used 33 putts.

Woods will need a strong second round Friday afternoon to avoid missing the cut for the first time at this event. Winds up to 30 miles per hour are predicted, which is fine with Woods, who prefers tougher conditions.

“I just have to go out there and execute,” he said.

Tiger starts his second round Friday with Willett and Fitzpatrick at 3:25 a.m. ET (12:25 p.m. local time).