Tiger struggles to get into a groove on day one at Merion
ARDMORE, Pa. -- Tiger Woods is No. 1 in the World Rankings but he was merely the clear No. 3 man in his group Thursday when his U.S. Open got off to a delayed start.
The glamor pairing of Woods, No. 2 Rory McIlroy and No. 3 Adam Scott weren't able to finish their opening round. A three-and-a-half-hour storm delay during the morning pushed their starting time back to 4:44 p.m., then a second shorter delay interrupted their front nine. They completed 10 holes-almost 11-before play was called because of darkness.
Scott was three-under-par. Rory was even after finishing the day with a short bogey putt on 11. Tiger was two-over, facing a five-footer for par at the same hole.
For a time Thursday afternoon, it appeared the Big Three might not get past the fifth hole. Play resumed after the initial delay at 12:10, then the horns sounded again at 6:15 and halted play until 6:55 due to another approaching storm. At that point, Woods smiled, shook Adam Scott's hand and briskly strode off holding an umbrella.
He had reason to grin, because he was clearly leaking oil and struggling with his game, not to mention the course. Woods had managed only one par in the first five holes, paired with one birdie and three probable bogeys (he still had a short bogey putt left at the fifth when play was suspended). Luckily, the second delay lasted only 40 minutes and they were able to resume play and get through the front nine.
It was a rocky start for Tiger. He hit few good shots in the first five holes, may have slightly injured an elbow or shoulder hitting a pair of shots out of the rough. He looked like he needed a chance to regroup, so the storm delay may have been a good break for him.
Scott and McIlroy outplayed Tiger on the first five holes. Scott made back-to-back birdies at Nos. 3 and 4, then gave one shot back at the fifth when his drive nestled in the rough, just inches from a drainage canal. McIlroy birdied the par-5 fourth with a nice wedge shot after laying up. He wasn't able to finish putting out at the fifth, either, after his birdie attempt power-lipped out and slid three feet past.
This was not how Woods wanted to kick off his Open. He was on the defensive from the first shot. He pushed his 5-wood tee shot at the first just into the right rough, then appeared to wince as he muscled his second shot out of a thick lie onto the green. He shook his arm slightly, possibly indicating that he'd tweaked his elbow. The nice recovery shot didn't help, however, as he three-putted for bogey from long range.
Tiger bounced back with a nice birdie at the second. He hit the left side of the fairway with his tee shot, then went for the green in two and flared it to the right in a greenside bunker. He took an angry swipe at the ground just after his follow-through, before playing an excellent long bunker shot to eight feet and making birdie to pull back to even par.
At the third hole, a long beast of a par 3 to an elevated green, his tee shot ran into the back fringe. He caught his chip shot heavy and watched a slope drift his ball well to the right, 18 feet short of the cup. He missed that par putt.
McIlroy made a terrific par save from the front bunker while Scott, after a great 2-iron shot to eight feet past the pin, holed the putt for birdie.
Tiger laid up at the 614-yard par-5 fourth, although Scott, who was about the same distance off the tee as Tiger, pulled out 3-wood and went for the green from 298 yards. Scott deposited it in the left bunker, but got up and down for birdie. Tiger was in mid-swing on his 64-yard wedge shot when a swallow buzzed past him and he sent the shot 25 feet past the cup. He shook his head afterward at the bad luck of the ill-timed distraction, and made his only par on the first five holes. McIlroy holed a 10-footer for birdie to go to one-under-par.
At the long par-4 fifth, Woods found the right rough again. He muscled a 5-wood shot out of the thick grass, winced and held his left arm bent for a few moments after the shot, then shook his arm several times. His shot ran just across the green into the back fringe, a decent effort. Just before he chipped, someone in the crowd yelled and he was forced to back away. He played another poor chip, leaving it 12 feet short, then left that par attempt well short on a sharply-breaking putt. He had a short bogey putt remaining when play was stopped, and later converted it after McIlroy holed his par.
Woods smiled on the next green when he unexpectedly poured in a 40-foot birdie putt.
McIlroy sank a 25-foot uphill birdie putt at the seventh, then Scott followed at the eighth with a 10-footer for birdie.
Woods finished the front nine as he started, with a mistake. He smartly left his tee shot below the hole on the par 3 but gunned his birdie putt past and missed the par attempt. He three-putted the first hole from below the hole and the ninth hole from above the hole to post a two-over-par 38. McIlroy shot 35; Scott, 34.
Tiger's second nine also started off slowly. He hit it close at the 10th hole but missed a five-footer for birdie. At the 11th, Woods yanked an iron shot into the left rough, dangerously close to the water. He gouged an iron across the creek, still in the rough and held his left arm at his side, obviously in some pain. He pitched to five feet to potentially save par when play was called for the day.
"I've got a lot of holes to play tomorrow," Woods said after he came off the course at dusk. "And hopefully I can play a little better than I did today."