Saturday 24 February 2018

Tiger strips to get back on course

Tiger woods hits out of a bunker on the 13th hole during the first round of the Honda Classic
Tiger woods hits out of a bunker on the 13th hole during the first round of the Honda Classic

William s Callaghan

TIGER WOODS infamously used get his kit off for the girls, but he thrilled golf fans at PGA National simply by stripping down to his bare feet, rolling up his trouser legs and shedding his jumper to perform a brilliant par save at the sixth.

Rory McIlroy, defending his Honda Classic title this week, kept his clothes on, but still produced a couple of spectacular saves of his own down the stretch as he matched Tiger's level-par 70... though he left the course frustrated after a sloppy bogey six at the last.

McIlroy was six off the clubhouse lead of Camilo Villegas. The Colombian took full advantage of glorious playing conditions and preferred lies with a superb 64 which hinted at a revival in a career which has gone south over the past two years.

After two top-10 finishes on his last two spins in the Honda, Graeme McDowell purred to an accomplished 67, rebounding from an irritating three-putt bogey at eight, his penultimate hole, by sinking a glorious 12-footer for birdie at nine.

Already wallowing at one-over through 14 holes, Tiger landed himself in even deeper trouble when he pulled his tee shot at six into the water hazard to the left of the fairway at this par four.

Seeing his ball only partially covered in the swamp, Woods decided to play it back onto the fairway.

Henrik Stenson caused a sensation at Doral four years ago when, in his own words, he "left only my jocks and my golf glove on" to hit a shot out of water and mud. The Swede was more interested in protecting his clothes than his modesty.

Tiger didn't go that far ... instead, he spared his trousers by donning rain pants. Yet the result was no less spectacular as the world No 2 splashed back out onto the fairway and then got up-and-down from 81 yards, holing from eight feet for a phenomenal par.

Suitably inspired, he'd make only his second birdie of the day at seven, polishing off a 21-foot putt there after a relatively frustrating round on the greens at the Champion Course.

Afterwards, Woods explained how necessity was the mother of invention at the sixth. "I was one-over at the time and if that ball was not playable, I'd have had to go pretty far back for my drop," he explained.

As for his overall performance, Woods said: "I hit the ball well today and hit plenty of good putts, but didn't have a hold of this grain."


Still, his opening gambit was one stroke better than last year, when Tiger followed-up with rounds of 68, 69 and a stunning 62 on Sunday for a share of second place just two behind rampant winner McIlroy.

Ireland's world No 1 began his march to victory here last February with a 66, but was swinging the club more smoothly 12 months ago.

After missing the cut by a mile in Abu Dhabi last month and last week's first round defeat to Shane Lowry at the Accenture Match Play, McIlroy needs to steady the ship. Making today's cut is his first priority and, after that dispiriting bogey at the last, he can't afford any slips today.

McIlroy's timing's still slightly awry. When the hips whip through as quickly as McIlroy's, it's almost impossible to get the clubface square if the swing is even slightly off plane.

His first bogey came at six, where his tee shot landed in the right rough and his approach flew into the left bunker.

McIlroy holed a four-footer for a sweet birdie at nine and from 22 feet to dip one-under at 14. His world class really showed when he played a fantastic chip to 18 inches from deep rough to the back of 16, followed by a glorious sand save from the left bunker at 17.

After coming through the infamous Bear Trap (15, 16 and 17) in even par, McIlroy leaked yet another tee shot into the right rough at 18; laid-up and then missed the green with a wedge, ending up in a desperate lie. He could get no closer than 10 feet and missed the putt for par.

Villegas led South Africa's Branden Grace , Canadian Graham DeLaet and US favourite Ricky Fowler by one in the clubhouse.

Grace, 24, a four-time winner in his rookie season in Europe last year, showed his class by finishing with four successive birdies on the Champion Course, including an unlikely hat-trick through the Bear Trap.

Lee Westwood opened with a satisfying 66.

Honda Classic

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Irish Independent

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