ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Tiger Woods had plowed through 17 holes of a steady, often clinical opening round at the PGA Championship on a bright, muggy afternoon at Oak Hill when it all came unraveled.
Playing his approach from the first cut of rough right of the fairway on the par-4 ninth, his last hole of the day, Woods attempted to hit a sweeping cut shot around the trees, but his ball landed at the bottom of a patch of juicy rough short of the green. He proceeded to chunk that chip into a bunker, and with his ball resting just under the lip, he chopped out and two-putted from 12 feet for a double bogey that left him smoldering.
“I was completely blocked out and tried to shape one over there and I drew no lie at all for my third shot,” Woods said afterward. “I was just trying to play 20 feet long and putt back, and just try to get a bogey. I didn’t even get over the bunker. Came out of nowhere.”
Woods finished his day with two birdies, one bogey and the messy double on the last hole for a one-over 71, six shots behind clubhouse leader Jim Furyk.
“The round realistically could’ve been under par, easily,” Woods said.
Wood displayed his trademark intensity throughout the day. On his opening hole, Woods caught his approach shot a little heavy, and angrily blurted, “Oh, Tiger…Christ.” He banged the ensuing 70-footer from the front collar eight feet past and was staring a sloppy start straight in the face when he canned the downhill comebacker for par. That putt reversed his recent trend of poor opening holes in the majors — Woods aggravated an elbow injury on his first hole at the U.S. Open at Merion in June, and at the British Open at Muirfield he sniped his first tee shot into the hay and made a messy bogey. Major championships aren’t won or lost on the first tee, but Thursday’s opening par appeared to settle him, and for nine holes Woods cruised along, leaving his driver in the bag while picking Oak Hill apart with his irons and crimson-headed fairway metals.
“I feel like I played well today and made some nice key putts, and the key is I left it in all the good spots, too,” Woods said. “Left it right where I wanted to leave them, so I had some free runs at putts, especially the par putts.”
When Woods made the turn at two under, it looked for all the world like he’d sail home and stamp his name squarely on the Day 1 leaderboard. It didn’t happen, and like each of this season’s previous majors, putting was his biggest problem. His group was also placed on the clock for four holes beginning on No. 1, and Woods proceeded to miss three straight birdie chances, including a three-footer on No. 2.
“Tricky little putt,” Woods said of that downhill knee-knocker. “Probably should’ve taken a little bit longer, but we were on the clock and had to get going, so ended up blocking the putt, anyway.”
Woods added that being on the clock wasn’t a distraction, and that it’s common given the large crowds that typically follow his groups.
“We have to be conscious of it, but we play just about every week like that. We have a lot of people following us and a lot of cameras going off and movement inside the galleries,” Woods said. “We have a tendency of having that happen, and we’re accustomed to it.”
Woods played alongside fellow Ryder Cuppers — and past PGA winners — Keegan Bradley and Davis Love III. Woods isn’t overly talkative inside the ropes at majors, but it was a comfortable group. Woods and Bradley could be heard chatting about college football while strolling up the 15th hole (both players birdied it) and they shared several laughs while walking Oak Hill's rolling fairways. Bradley fought through a tough start to finish at one-under 69; Love shot 74. They’ll tee it up together again on Friday at 1:45 Eastern.
For Woods to win this 95th PGA Championship and snap a five-year major drought, he’ll have to re-write two statistics: He hasn’t broken 70 on the weekend in any of his last seven majors, and he’s also failed to break par in five competitive rounds at Oak Hill — he finished T39 at the 2003 PGA here.
“I’m still right there,” Woods says. “As of right now I’m only six back and we have got a long way to go.”
Holes 1 and 14 share a tee box here at Oak Hill, and Thursday the PGA honchos had their famous Wanamaker trophy perched on a wooden stand just a few feet away from the tee markers. Woods took a quick glance at the sparkling silver cup as he played the 14th, and another peek later when he strolled off the box again to play No. 1.
Thursday was a tough finish, but with three rounds remaining the prize still in sight.