Monday 20 August 2018

The good, bad and ugly for Woods

Tiger salvages US PGA hopes after disastrous start on a day when Rory fails to hit top gear

Tiger Woods plays out from a bunker on the fourth hole at Bellerive Country Club yesterday. Photo: Getty
Tiger Woods plays out from a bunker on the fourth hole at Bellerive Country Club yesterday. Photo: Getty

Brian Keogh

Tiger Woods endured a day of mixed emotions as Rory McIlroy failed to find top gear and Rickie Fowler streaked out in front with a superb 65 in the opening round of the US PGA Championship at a sweltering Bellerive.

Woods played like a cross between Hulk Hogan and Ben Hogan before battling back from three-over after just two holes to match McIlroy with a level-par 70. If ever there was an example of scorecards not painting pictures, this was it.

'McIlroy was busy opening with a bogey himself, bunkering his approach from the right rough.' Photo: Getty
'McIlroy was busy opening with a bogey himself, bunkering his approach from the right rough.' Photo: Getty

McIlroy did little wrong, sandwiching birdies at this second and fourth holes between sloppy bogeys at his first and ninth before finishing Nick Faldo-style with nine successive pars.

But as Woods hit the ball to all corners of St Louis early in his round, he gave McIlroy a close-up look at a player slowly working his way around a course when not playing his best and posting a score.

"Just hung in there," said Woods, who found rough with his opening tee shot, hacked it 65 yards, hit his third to 30 feet and followed that with such a poor putt that he had to hole a seven-footer just to avoid double bogey.

McIlroy was busy opening with a bogey himself, bunkering his approach from the right rough.

But the huge crowds following a stellar three ball that also featured defending champion Justin Thomas was treated to more Woods horror on the next.

After finding more rough from the tee, he hit his approach into the lake right of the green, hit a poor pitch to 21 feet and two-putted for a double-bogey six.

That he managed to regroup after changing his sweat-soaked shirt in a toilet on the next was nothing short of remarkable.

"I was trying to grind away at it, pick away at it, and trying to get to maybe one-over par at the turn," Woods said.

In the end, having followed a birdie at the 12th with a bogey at the 16th, he birdied the 18th to turn in two-over par before playing close to his best stuff on the way home, holing a brace of eight-footers for birdies at the first and eighth. "Just keep hanging in there," he added.

Woods knows that Majors are long weeks and having struggled to get his body right for this week's test, he was more than happy to survive a tough opening round.

Generation

At the age of 42, he's 13 years older than McIlroy and 17 years older than Thomas, who shot 69.

But the generation gap wasn't lost on Woods or McIlroy, who made an eight-footer at the 11th and a 13-footer at the 13th for his lone birdies.

"I told the story the other night at the champions' dinner when I played with Jack (Nicklaus) at Valhalla, 18 years ago," Woods said.

"That was his last PGA, and he was telling me the story that he played with Gene Sarazen in his last PGA.

"It's interesting what this game of golf can do, how we can basically last for so many different generations."

McIlroy has two PGA titles on his CV and while he played solidly all day, he struggled to convert his chances, hitting 15 greens and taking 33 putts.

"It wasn't that easy out there," he said. "The scores sort of reflect that. Obviously, Rickie is at five. A few guys are at three.

"I wish I could have taken advantage of the two par-fives. I gave myself a few chances. I finished the round off with nine pars, and it could have been a little better."

The Holywood star was playing with anti-inflammatory patches on his right forearm but he refused to blame that for his failure to break par.

"I started feeling it the weekend of Firestone," he said. "Funny enough, it hurts the most with chipping because I sort of hold the angle a little bit.

"It's just that in there. The whole forearm has been tight. I hit a lot of balls last week at Firestone working on a few things, and it's just a little inflamed and a little tight, but it's fine."

While his score wasn't what he wanted, he enjoyed playing with Woods in front of a such a massive crowd, with his best pal Harry Diamond on the bag.

He added: "It's cool, I said to Harry out there. Harry caddied for me in the 2005 Irish Open when I was 16, and then we're walking the fairways in a group like this today, 13 years later. So it's pretty cool.

"The cool thing about golf is Tiger is playing with us. He talked about it at the champions' dinner a couple of nights ago, saying he played the first two rounds of Valhalla in 2000 with Jack Nicklaus, and that was his last PGA. So to see the generations overlap in golf is pretty cool."

Fowler (29) is part of the McIlroy generation and having decided to change outfit and wear a yellow top as a tribute to the late Jarrod Lyle, he had some good karma as he made six birdies in his 65, with four of them coming on his back nine.

That was good enough to give him a two-shot lead over a seven-man group - Austin Cook, Ian Poulter, Pat Perez, Jason Day, Brian Gay, Stewart Cink and Ollie Schniederjans.

"I'm definitely happy about the start," Fowler said. "Felt like I kept it very stress-free, hit a lot of fairways, a lot of greens. Just played within myself. Didn't try to do anything special or get anything extra up there today."

As for his choice of shirt colour, he said: "The last few weeks, especially last week and this week, we've all been thinking about Jarrod a lot.

"So I was scripted to wear dark blue today. That definitely immediately changed last night. Last week I had the (yellow) pin somewhere on the side. This is front and centre."

Irish Independent

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