January 28, 2018

Woods Ties for 23rd in First Start Back

LA JOLLA, Calif. – Any way you analyze it, Tiger Woods’ much-anticipated return to the PGA Tour was a success.

Competing against a full-field for the first time in a year and only the second time since 2015, he showed expected rust, especially off the tee. But not only did Woods survive the cut, his short game was stellar, his grind mode was impressive, and most importantly, he walked off the 72nd hole on Sunday at Torrey Pines Golf Course pain-free.

All in all, the Farmers Insurance Open provided a great launching pad for his 2018 season.

“I’m very pleased,” Woods said, after closing with an even-par 72 to finish at 3-under 285. “After not playing for a couple years really, it was a solid four days. I fought hard for those scores and it was a lot of fun.”

Woods tied for 23rd, his best finish on the PGA Tour since placing 10th at the Wyndham Championship in 2015.

Jason Day (-10) won the event with a birdie on the 6th playoff hole over Alex Noren. Ryan Palmer was eliminated from the playoff on the first extra hole.

Woods attracted massive galleries every day. Clearly, they missed him as much as he missed them, and he was grateful for the support.

Coming into the tournament, Woods didn’t know what to expect. There were encouraging signs after he finished ninth in the limited-field Hero World Challenge last month at Albany in the Bahamas. But the atmosphere was relaxed, the crowds modest and the fairways more forgiving.

Not so at Torrey. While players were treated to four glorious days of weather on the ocean layouts, neither the South or North were pushovers. Fairways and greens were firm, rough thick, and the pressure more intense.

It should also be noted that Woods didn’t hold back with his swing, even with clumpy lies, and felt no ill effects.

“A few times I had to jack up the speed and I was able to do it,” he said.
In short, it was exactly what Woods needed to assess the state of his game as he builds for the Masters in April.

Asked what he needs to work on, he said, “Everything. I’m excited to get this one under my belt.”

His top priority will be dialing in his driver and irons. Woods hit only 17 of 56 fairways in four days, matching his lowest total since the 2015 Genesis Open, and reached 42 of 72 greens. However, he cracked the top 20 in strokes gained putting.

Some of that can be attributed to inactivity and adrenaline, and there were promising signs Sunday. Although Woods found only three fairways for the third consecutive day, his swing was smoother and he found his rhythm midway through round, piping several tee shots.

“I played a lot better today,” said the 42-year-old Woods. “It was tough conditions and tough scoring.”

Prior to the round, he figured a 65 might get him into a playoff.

“I was just trying to post a number early,” he said.

Wearing his traditional Sunday red shirt and black slacks, Woods started in the second group off the 10th tee at 8:15 a.m. local time with Francesco Molinari and Hideki Matsuyama. His goal was made more difficult on the warm day by brisk Santa Ana winds.

Woods made a nice par save at 11, holing a 10-foot putt, then gave himself a great birdie look at the par-4 13th. Just as he putted, an overzealous fan yelled, causing Woods to miss.

Woods regrouped quickly, going on a five-hole birdie-bogey streak. He birdied 14, bogeyed 15, birdied 16, bogeyed 17 and birdied 18.

The latter was impressive. Woods perfectly judged his short third shot at the par-5 over water, spinning the ball back five feet above the hole and buried the slippery downhill putt to turn 1-under 35.

At the par-4 first, his nemesis through the years, he not only found the fairway, Woods crushed his drive 358 yards, his longest on the PGA Tour in 940 days. He showed nice touch with a dicey 90-yard wedge, stopping the ball 10 feet left of the back right pin, then burned the left edge of the hole with his birdie attempt.

Woods ripped another wind-aided 350-yard drive at the par-4 second, the ball trickling into the first cut of the right rough. Once again, he judged the tricky back-left pin placement beautifully, clipping a short wedge five feet below the hole, then poured in the left to right birdie putt.

At the picturesque, downhill par-3 third, where the Pacific Ocean provides a distracting backdrop, three groups were waiting, causing a 20-minute delay. A relaxed and smiling Woods chatted with fans, including Andre Iguodala of the Golden State Warriors, a huge Tiger fan and 10-handicapper. Iguodala, celebrating his 34th birthday, flew down after helping the defending NBA champion Warriors defeat Boston on Saturday night in Oakland.

When play resumed, Woods hit a smart tee shot in the middle of the green and two-putted for par. He didn’t know it, but the par lifted Woods into a tie for 16th place.

Woods dropped a shot at the par-4 fourth, blocking his drive right and came up short with his approach. He pitched long to the testy back-left pin and was unable to convert.

Woods nearly got it back at the par-4 fifth, where he stuffed his approach shot four feet from the pin but was unable to capitalize. He made a nice save at the par-5 sixth, nearly chipping in for birdie from the front of the green, then pushed another tee shot into the right rough at the par-4 seventh. Woods had an opening in the trees and punched just short of the green, where he elected to putt from long range and came up five feet short. His par putt slid by on the right.

At the uphill par-3 eighth, Woods flushed a solid 6-iron 25 feet below the cup and made a stress-free par. Looking to finish string, he drove right again at the par-5 ninth, muscled a 5-wood from a tough stance short-right of the green into heavy rough, gouged his third shot well past the hole and two-putted for a par.

Woods was a combined 6-under on the par-5s.

“Overall, very positive,” he said.

Woods returns to competition Feb. 15-18 in the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif., where he will also serve as tournament host. The event is run by the Tiger Woods Foundation, and proceeds benefit the college-access programs for underserved kids.