Tiger's debut is all about what could have been

Tiger’s debut is all about what could have been

Tiger Woods missed the fairway on each of his par 5s on Thursday.
Robert Beck/SI

LA JOLLA, Calif. — Tiger Woods’s return to competition Thursday at Torrey Pines didn’t lack for speculation or hype. Would his work with Sean Foley during the off-season pay immediate dividends? Could Woods regain his putting touch that was lost in 2010?

At 1:30 p.m. local time, Tiger’s opening round at the 2011 Farmers Insurance Open was in the books, and it turned out to be memorable for, um … not much.

Yes, Woods produced a few sweet shots en route to a three-under 69, like his tee shot on the par-3 12th hole (his third of the day) that led to a kick-in birdie. He also made a long birdie putt on the sixth and crushed his tee shot 343 yards down the middle on the fourth hole.

But there was no signature shot that ticket holders will tell their friends about on Friday. There wasn’t an electric atmosphere surrounding Woods and his playing partners, Anthony Kim and Rocco Mediate. Compared to previous rounds Woods has played around here, most of the day was flat.

You can chalk that up to wayward shots on the wrong holes combined with challenging putts.

Woods missed the fairway on all four par 5s on Thursday, leaving his ball in the thick rough. That took eagle out of the picture and forced him to work hard to make par.

“I hit two good drives in there, and unfortunately they’d land on the fairway but didn’t stay on the fairway, so I had no shot,” Woods said. “The other two I hit terrible tee shots and put myself in bad spots.”

Playing the par 5s poorly not only kept Woods from drawing circles on his scorecard, but it also subdued the crowd. Woods is a native of Southern California and has won seven professional tournaments at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open. Most fans wanted to see him do well, including more than 50 maintenance workers, clad in orange safety vests and gloves, who stopped work to watch Woods play the 17th hole.

The only time the gallery roared for Tiger was after he jarred a birdie putt on the sixth hole. There weren’t choruses of “C’Mon Tiger.” The claps were enthusiastic but not loud.

When Woods did find the fairway, shaky approach shots left him with tricky downhill putts. On the North Course, Woods knew that was not where he needed to be.

With no wind to speak of and the greens still soft, Woods found the fairway with his 3-wood on the 10th hole, but a poor short-iron approach prevented him from capitalizing. On the 13th hole, Woods again put himself in great position off the tee but played a loose iron shot, leaving the ball 35 feet from the hole.

“Every putt I had was from above the hole, breaking two, three or four feet,” Woods said. “I never left myself below the hole. When I did … I hit right through the birdie.”

On a positive note, Woods hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation, and his misses rarely got him in serious trouble.

His toughest scrambling was on the eighth hole after his tee shot went into a fairway bunker. (“My foot slipped,” he muttered.) He then dropped his first F-bomb after hitting his approach shot short and left of the green in deep rough. Woods got up and down, pitching to eight feet and making the putt.

“I’m happy with the way that I played, absolutely,” Woods said. “It could have been a lot better if I took care of the par 5s a little more, but obviously that didn’t happen.”