CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A loud roar erupted as Tiger Woods made his way from the putting green to the first tee to begin his campaign at the Wells Fargo Championship. Interest was high, from fans and media alike, after a T40 finish at the Masters, Tiger’s worst showing as a pro at Augusta. So how did Woods look after taking some time off to work through his swing issues with his coach, Sean Foley? I stepped inside the ropes to find out. He looked a bit, well, shaky.
– The first tee was completely surrounded by fans, at least five people deep all the way to the green as Tiger was joined by playing partners Webb Simpson and Geoff Ogilvy for their 1:25 tee time. Simpson, a Charlotte resident, received just as loud a welcome as Tiger, who donned a slick-looking white Nike polo with light gray and green dots that blended nicely into stripes. As the crowd finally settled, Tiger grabbed an iron to start his round and drilled it 260 yards down the fairway, much to the delight of the crowd. Tiger’s approach shot was well struck but drifted to the back fringe, 18 feet from the hole. Opting to chip from there, Tiger showed some rust as he caught it fat. He slid his 8-foot par putt past the right edge and took a bogey on the par 4. +1
– Tough hole location to the bottom left part of the green on the 178-yard, par-3 second. Simpson stuck one close to the hole and received a huge roar from the crowd. Tiger found the dead center of the green and looked comfortable standing over a 24-foot putt that trickled into the hole for birdie. E
– Tiger sent his tee shot toward a clump of trees on the left side of the fairway at the par-4 third, but his ball was safe, as it settled a few feet from the pine needles. Tiger looked relaxed on the course and chatted with Webb throughout most of the round. Topics of conversation overheard included their children and pick-up basketball games. After watching Simpson’s approach, Tiger decided to club down, but he hit it short — he willed it to stay on the green and talked to his ball for the first time. (“Leave it, leave it, leave it!”) Instead, it tracked down to the fringe at the front of the green, 33.5 feet from the hole. Taking his chances with his putter after his mishap on No. 1 with the wedge, Tiger left his birdie putt just short and tapped in for par. E
– Tiger looked a bit shaky off the tee as he sent another drive to the left side of the fairway on the par-4 fourth, but again he got lucky with a favorable lie. Attacking the back-left hole location, Tiger’s approach just clipped the top of a tree and instead left him in the back left bunker. A beautiful shot by Tiger out of the sand settled 5 feet from the hole. He drained it. E
– Opting for the 3-wood on the par-5, 570-yard fifth, Tiger absolutely demolished the ball, sending it more than 300 yards, dead center of the fairway. His second shot found the back left fringe and he opted to chip it. This time, though, Tiger got too much on it and sent it 8 feet past the hole. Still capable of walking away with a birdie, Tiger’s putt missed right, and he carded his third straight par. E
– On to the second par-3 of the day, the 250-yard sixth, where Tiger left his tee shot short and to the left, finding himself smack-dab in the middle of the front bunker. Another nice display out of the bunker left Tiger 6 feet with a chance to salvage the hole. Again, though, he looked shaky with his putter and pushed it right, notching his second bogey of the day. +1
– Tiger was again unable to control his driver the 532-yard, par-5 seventh. He sent his first shot way left, outside the ropes. Again, he had a decent lie and a nice look at the green. Looking to attack the front-left hole location, Tiger sent a screamer that cut left and barely bypassed some hanging limbs, ending up l7 yards left of the hole in the rough. Taking a wide stance and a full swing, Woods flopped one above the hole to within 8 feet — really all he could do in that situation. With a good read on the putt, Tiger took advantage and nabbed his second birdie of the day. E
– Another beautiful first shot with the 3-wood on the par-4 eighth to the tune of 290 yards. Tiger tried to execute a little bump and run, but it stopped short, and he released the club in frustration for the first time on the day. Meanwhile, Simpson knocked in his pitch from a similar distance for an eagle that sent the crowd into an absolute frenzy. Once the crowd calmed, Tiger stepped over his lengthy birdie putt and pushed it left by a couple of feet. He turned his back on the fans and let himself have it. E
– On No. 9, the longest par 4 on the course at 491 yards, Tiger hit driver and sent it way right again, outside the ropes and underneath a golf cart. Again, he let the club fly; quite a few boos came from the crowd, as well as an “Elin!” from one spectator. After clearing the crowd and cart out of his way, Tiger dug in and took a powerful swing at the ball, but it got caught up in a tree and only went about 20 yards. He did a lot better with his third, letting it fly and landing it close to the center of the green, 27 feet from the hole. With the pressure on to save par, Tiger left his putt a foot short and tacked on a third bogey of the day, going back to one over headed to the back nine. +1
– The wide-open fairway of the 591 yard, par-5 10th is inviting, and Tiger took a chance and pulled the driver. It paid off as Tiger mauled one straight down the middle, 327 yards, outpacing Simpson and Ogilvy by a mile. It was easily Tiger’s best drive of the day up to that point. Tiger couldn’t capitalize, though, and left his approach short and right. His ball came to rest on a drain, and he took a drop, but his heels were hanging off the edge of the drain as he took his stance. Again Woods tried a bump and run, but this time he hit it with too much pace and it rolled 20 feet past the hole. The lengthy birdie putt stopped 3 feet short, setting up another par. +1
– Tiger ditched the driver in favor of a long iron on No. 11, where he sent it 254 yards down the fairway. Simpson and Ogilvy out-distanced him by a considerable margin with their drivers. Tiger’s approach was a beauty that landed smack-dab in the middle of the green, 15 feet from the hole with a reasonable shot at birdie. Again, though, Tiger’s putt was short, this time by a foot on his way to another par. +1
– Going with an iron again on the par-4 12th, Tiger got a bit more on it and found the left side of the fairway, 157 yards from the flag. Another strong approach shot left Tiger with a look at birdie from 18 feet. He had the speed right this time, but not the line, and he left it 3 feet to the right for his third consecutive par. +1
– The hole location at the par-3 13th was dead center. Tiger went a little more left off the tee than he wanted to, but he looked comfortable and struck the 22-foot putt well. The ball dropped, and Tiger received his first big roar from the crowd since No. 7. He flashed a big smile. E
– Woods hit iron again and found another fairway on No. 14. With about 105 yards to go, he hit a well-placed approach above the hole. With 14 feet separating him from back-to-back birdies, Tiger took his time with the read but missed by a few inches. E
– The par-5 15th offered another big, wide fairway, so Tiger tried his luck with the driver, but again he sent it into the left rough with 260 yards to play. He executed a low fade that found the fairway, 25 yards out. He pitched to within 3 feet and made his fourth birdie of the day to get into the red for the first time. -1
– Tiger hit driver again on the 478-yard, par-4 16th, but he dumped it into the center of the fairway bunker on the right. He got a hold of the bunker shot but ended up left of the green, leaving him with another chip. He chipped to 2 feet and saved par. -1
– Tiger’s group had to wait a bit as the group in front holed out on the par-3 17th. Meanwhile, Tiger munched on a sandwich and continued to chat with Simpson. Tiger stuck his tee shot to 15 feet. After making the winding walk past cheering fans from tee to green on Quail Hollow’s signature hole, Woods took his time and read the putt from all angles. Once again, he had the right speed but not the right read. Another par. -1
– Tiger hit an iron on his final hole of the day, smashing it 275 yards to the middle of the fairway. Again, Ogilvy and Simpson outstretched him by a good amount with their drivers. Tiger’s second shot was left and flirted with a creek. He hit a solid little chip that left him with less than 4 feet for par. Tiger wasted no time with the par putt. -1
Final stats: -1, T56; 294 average driving distance; 57% driving accuracy; 67% greens in regulation.
Final thoughts: It was a pretty mundane round for Tiger as he was never able to build enough momentum to make a strong run. While his 3 wood and irons were strong off the tee all day, Tiger never seemed to have control over his driver, missing both left and right throughout his round. He also didn’t look totally comfortable on the greens, especially from the 15-20 foot range. When he had a good read on a putt, he often left it a bit short; when he hit it with the right pace, he left it right or left of the hole. If Tiger wants to contend, he’s going to have to tighten up his game, especially around the greens.