June 20, 2024

LOUISVILLE — It was well before lunchtime on Thursday when Tiger Woods finished his play on Valhalla Golf Club’s 18th hole with a tap-in par. He’d started the first round of his 23rd PGA Championship early with his grouping on the 10th hole. A sizeable moving gallery followed Woods over the first nine holes, but when he finished making the turn at one over par, there were but a handful of “Let’s go Tiger!”


At that point, the huge leaderboard at the 18th showed that Xander Schauffele had shot 31 on his own front nine and was already six shots ahead of Woods en route to tying the all-time majors low score of 62.


Fewer than three hours into this PGA, one verdict already was in: Woods would not be celebrating a majors rebirth at the site of his dramatic playoff victory at the turn of this century.


To the credit of a golfer who has only played five competitive rounds this year, Woods plotted his way around Valhalla for most of the day without creaking too badly from his rust. He was one under through 16 holes. But be it fatigue or loss of focus, Woods let himself down with his putter on the last two greens, three-putting both to shoot one-over 72 and stand 10 shots off Schauffle’s torrid pace.


That was a tough finish for Woods to swallow, considering that the fused ankle that affects so much of his gait and swing shouldn’t be a factor when he has a putter in his hand. In the aftermath, a reporter tried to point out how well Woods had putted during the rest of the round—that he stood near the top of the morning wave in the total length of putts he’d made. But Woods refused to take solace.


“Well, I three-whipped the last two holes. Wasn’t very good,” he said. “Bad speed on 8; whipped it past the hole. And 9, hit it short. Hit it off the heel of the putt and blocked the second one. So wasn’t very good on the last two holes.”


For the record, Woods three-putted from 40 feet on 8, missing a 10-footer for par, and at 9, he missed a six-footer for par.


Tiger Woods putts on the 16th green.


Christian Petersen

It was a disconcerting turn since Woods had recovered from a bogey on his second hole by saving par by draining a 15-footer at No. 12 and topping it with an 18-footer for birdie at 13. Woods spent a lot of time on the greens when he scouted Valhalla last week, and it looked to be paying off. He made another birdie from 13 feet at No. 7 to get to one under overall before his stumbles at the end.


Somewhat predictably, Woods struggled most from off the tee, where he missed five fairways, leading to five greens missed.


“The rough is dense. It’s just very dense,” Woods said. “With the rain we got and just the moisture on it, I know they’ve topped it off, but it’s just really lush.”


Translation: Stay out of it. “I just need to do a better job of that,” he said.


Other than the putting at the end, the start can be viewed as encouraging for the 48-year-old Woods. He grinded impressively in making the cut in April’s Masters, only to shoot 15 over on the weekend while looking physically and mentally wiped out. This week, he got what could be a good draw by going early-late—though that now depends on how the weather plays out on Friday. With any delays, he’d be looking at another long trudge by Saturday.


“I am getting stronger for sure,” Woods said. “It’s just that I just don’t play a whole lot of competitive rounds. I haven’t played since the Masters. So it’s a little bit different than being at home and playing a flat Florida course.”




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