JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — Tiger Woods said he came to Atlanta Athletic Club thinking about a W. When pressed for specifics Wednesday, he made a small joke: “A nice W.”
Thursday, we found out what he meant. W is for “What?” As in, What was that?
Woods suffered a stunning turnaround in the first round of the PGA Championship, his first major since the Masters in April. He shot an ugly 77, seven over par. That left him two touchdowns (14 strokes) behind Steve Stricker, who fired a seven-under 63 to tie the lowest score ever shot in a major championship, a feat that’s been done 25 times over the years.
“Yeah, it was a good day,” said Stricker with a grin.
It wasn’t such a good day for U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy, who injured his wrist on the third hole when he hit a shot from the rough and struck a tree root with such force that he bent the hosel of his 7-iron. He received medical attention, leading to speculation over the next few holes that he might have to withdraw. He bogeyed the third but birdied the fifth and sixth holes and soldiered on. He was even through his first 10 holes.
Woods was not grinning at the end of his day, though he got off to a terrific start. He teed off the 10th and was flirting with the lead after making birdie on three of his first five holes. But he made the turn at two over par after botching the 18th hole with a double bogey, and then his game continued to implode. He made three doubles on the day, great in a baseball box score but disastrous on a golf scorecard.
You can’t win a tournament on Thursday, but you can lose it. Woods all but played himself out of contention. He found more bunkers (seven) than he did fairways (five). It was in stark contrast to his confident comments a day earlier about a possible W.
Woods didn’t have many positives in this round. He putted decently but was usually putting for par. He was unable to keep his tee shots in play, which really hurt. Worse, his misses went both directions — the dreaded two-way miss, as he often calls it. All things considered, it was a serious setback to Tiger’s road to recovery.
“I start fighting it, and I couldn’t get it back,” Woods said.
Asked if he felt down after the round, Woods answered, “I’m not down. I’m really angry right now. So there’s a lot of words I could use beyond that.”
As for the kind of adjustments he’ll have to make before Friday’s round, Woods joked weakly, “It’s going to be a lot. It’s a laundry list.”
Woods was among a large group of players who succumbed to the difficult last four holes, a stretch that begs for a nickname like Fearsome Foursome or The Apocalypse or something more original. They might get a new label by the end of this week. Woods played those four holes in five over par. Ryo Ishikawa, who shot 85, was eight over par in that stretch.
The jolt of electricity that Woods delivered with his early birdies turned into recurring shocks as the day wore on. He played the first few holes beautifully. He made a nice 12-foot putt at the 10th hole, two-putted from long distance for a solid par at the next and then recovered from a way-right tee shot at the par-5 12th, where he drilled a low 3-wood shot under a branch to a greenside bunker and got up and down for birdie. Two under par, and people were buzzing in the big gallery that swarmed after him.
He found another fairway bunker at the 13th but muscled an iron shot to the fringe and made par. He birdied the 14th to get to three under, but then things began to unravel.
At the 15th, a 260-yard par 3 guarded by water, Woods pushed his iron shot and watched it land short of the green with a sickening splash. He pitched to 15 feet and two-putted for a double bogey.
He faced more trouble at the par-4 16th. His tee shot slid right and found a fairway bunker. He played his second shot left onto a hillside, then faced a delicate pitch over a bunker to a short-side pin. He left the pitch short, dumping it into the bunker — a serious strategic mistake. From there, he made a nice recovery shot to five feet and rolled in the putt to salvage a bogey.
He parred the par-3 17th but plugged his drive in a fairway bunker on the right at the par-4 18th. He gouged out and still had 207 yards to the pin. Woods took a swing with a 4-iron and one hand immediately came off the club on his follow-through, indicating that he hated the shot. It went well left into a bunker and he went on to make another double bogey.
Woods gave back another shot at the first hole, where he hit into the left rough. His approach fell short into a greenside bunker and he made bogey after a mediocre-at-best sand shot to 15 feet.
Another fairway bunker snagged Woods at the second hole. He went bunker-to-bunker and then left his greenside bunker shot in the rough short of the green. (His bunker play last week at Akron and again Thursday was not very good by his former standards.) After the miscue, he played a nice bump-and-run to four feet and escaped with a bogey.
He bogeyed the fourth, then played two good shots just over the green at the par-5 fifth. A deft chip to four feet led to a rare birdie, but that was his last highlight.
Woods found yet another bunker with his tee shot at the par-4 sixth and pulled his approach shot into the greenside pond, a shot he knew was dead as soon as he’d hit it. That led to his third double bogey of the round, a lowlight of a disastrous day.
In the wake of last weekend’s caddie flap with Tiger’s former looper Steve Williams, Woods finished this first round eight strokes behind Adam Scott, Williams’s new boss. Scott shot a one-under 69.