CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — When Tiger Woods shot a 30 on the front nine in a seven-under 65 in the opening round of the Quail Hollow Championship, he appeared poised to dominate on a tough course with a major-like feel.
But Woods was still working out the kinks in his fifth tournament back from knee surgery. Entering Sunday two shots out of the lead, Woods wasted several birdie chances and one eagle opportunity, closing with 10 straight pars for a 72.
He finished at 9-under 286, good for fourth place, two shots behind winner and buddy Sean O’Hair.
“I’ve been very pleased with some of my progress. I’m also not so pleased with some of it,” Woods said. “It’s been spotty, streaky. I just need to get a little more consistent.”
In an event he won in 2007, Woods could have tied for the lead with an eagle when he drove the green on the par-4 14th. He ended up nearly four-putting.
“It was baked out. I knew that,” Woods said of the tricky, fast green, the signature element of this event. “It was downwind and I saw George (McNeill’s) putt roll out. I kept telling myself, ‘This putt is faster than it looks. It’s faster than it looks.’ And I didn’t heed my own warning.
“The next one I blocked again. And I made a wonderful 6-footer for my three-putt.”
Still, Woods believes his short game is ahead of the rest. He hit only 25 of 56 fairways.
“That’s all I did for months is chip and putt,” Woods said of his limitations during rehab. “I just need to get more crisp with my driving and my long irons. The longer stuff is not where I want it.”
He’s hardly been bad, with one win and four consecutive top-10 finishes. The next step is playing consecutive weeks for the first time at The Players Championship.
“I haven’t done it yet and this will be a nice little test,” Woods said. “Obviously toward the end of the year we play a lot. You’ve just go to keep building toward that throughout the year and have no setbacks. That’s the whole key.”
JOHNSON HEADACHE: Third-round leader Zach Johnson had a nasty headache on Sunday that affected his vision, perhaps from allergies.
It only got worse when his undoing came in the most unlikely way: He triple-bogeyed a par 3 that has no water.
Johnson entered the day at 11 under and ahead by two shots. After parring the first hole, Johnson hit his tee shot on No. 2 so far right it hit a cart path and stopped 75 yards from the pin.
“It was just a dead block push. Got in front of it. Terrible swing,” Johnson said.
Facing a chip shot with a tree just to his right, Johnson hit the tree square. The ball ricocheted behind him and to the right, leaving him 80 yards to the hole.
“I was in pine straw,” Johnson said. “I hit it 8 feet right of where I was trying to hit it.”
He reached the green on his third shot, then three-putted after he lipped out a 6-footer for double bogey.
Johnson hit another tree on the next hole on the way to a bogey. He recovered with consecutive birdies, but played the final 13 holes at 2 over for a 76. He finished at 7 under, wasting an opportunity for his second win of the year.
“I’ll learn from it and figure out what happened,” Johnson said. “Hopefully I’ll be better the next time around.”
LEFTY’S CHARGE: Phil Mickelson declared himself out of contention on Saturday after a 75 left him eight shots out of the lead. Lefty’s tune changed when he birdied No. 14 on Sunday to move to 8 under and within one of the lead.
“I never really thought about winning until the last four or five holes,” Mickelson said.
He finished with four straight pars and a 67 that momentarily left him in the mix – and gave him some momentum for next week’s Players Championship.
“I enjoyed getting a good round and hitting some shots, making some key putts, feeling the pressure,” Mickelson said. “The last hole I had a 4-footer and I had pressure on that. That’s cool. I haven’t been in a tournament the last couple of weeks, and it was fun to feel that.”
A SUCCESS: The tournament was forced to change its name only two months before the first ball was struck. Officials were selling tickets and sponsorships in a town hit hard by the financial crisis.
Still, Quail Hollow Championship director Kym Hougham was pleased at how the event recovered.
Ticket sales were down about 2,000 per day compared to last year. But Woods’ presence produced similar, if not larger, crowds than 2008 when Woods didn’t play because of a knee injury.
“He makes tickets used at a much higher percentage,” Hougham said. “So it’s likely that we sold less tickets but we’ll have more people on the golf course this year.”
Wells Fargo still paid about $3 million even though it took Wachovia, the company it purchased last year, off the name of the tournament. Hougham said they had trouble selling midlevel corporate hospitality packages in the $15,000 range, but overall the event did well considering the poor economy.
“It all goes back to two things, the date and the golf course,” Hougham said. “We’re blessed with really good with both. I think we’re one of the fortunate ones on tour, and we understand that.”
DIVOTS: Jonathan Byrd shot a 66 on Sunday to tied for fifth at 8 under, his best finish in nearly a year. “I went out (Saturday) and played more solid, more free. That’s a good word for me,” Byrd said. “And today I just tried to do the same thing. … U.S. Amateur champion Danny Lee double-bogeyed 18 in a final-round 76. He finished at 2-under 286 to collect his first check as a professional. Lee missed the cut in his debut the week before at the Zurich Classic … Anthony Kim, the 2008 champion, recovered from Saturday’s 78 with a 71. He finished at even par.