DUBLIN, Ohio – The overhead map of Muirfield Village Golf Club shows a course set in the wooded wilderness. There are golf holes, and there’s a clubhouse, and a parking lot. Besides that? Only trees.
But the map is misleading for one reason in particular: it erases the houses. There are large houses; rows of them, in fact. Ohio St. head football coach Urban Meyer owns one. Tournament host Jack Nicklaus has one, too. And there’s another along the right side of the par-5 15th, a large grey house with an expansive backyard abutting the world-class golf course. That yard is where Tiger Woods’s tee shot settled around 10 a.m. Thursday morning. That tee shot and the resulting double bogey at 15 – Woods’s 6th hole of the day – sent the World No. 83 to three over par for his round. It didn’t get much better on 16, when Woods short-sided himself in a bunker and suffered a slow-mo lip-out to balloon to four over.
But as poor as he was out of the gate, Woods was that good the rest of the way, making five birdies against just one bogey in his last 11 holes to clamber back into the mix. A day that felt decidedly uneven nonetheless left him at level-par 72 in the opening round of the Memorial Tournament, an event he’s won five times.
The group of Woods, Justin Rose and Jason Dufner had the makings of a chummy partnership going into the 8:26 a.m. time. Rose and Woods went to dinner at a local steakhouse Tuesday night, and Dufner, who occasionally plays with Woods at home, warmed up alongside the 14-time major champion Thursday morning.
There was plenty of reason to expect good play, too: Rose won last week at Colonial, Dufner won the Memorial last year, and Woods, who has never missed the cut here, contended at the Players in his last start. The day dawned warm, humid and relatively still, leaving a scorable golf course. What could go wrong?
Early on, just about everything.
After recovering for par from the left fairway bunker at No. 10, Woods hit a pull-hook two-iron off the par-5 11th tee that went so far left he actually found dry land left of the hazard, though he drew a hellish lie on a sideslope of thick rough. Woods chopped out to the fairway then deposited his approach shot in the water some 20 yards short of his target. He did well to get up and down for his bogey.
The 15th was even more telling of the group’s direction. All three players stood at one over, and Woods was first to play. His tee shot, punctuated with a club-slam and a quick, succinct curse word, traveled literally off the map. Rose’s hole was just as ugly; he topped his second shot and cold shanked his third en route to bogey. Dufner’s tee shot forced him to chip out backwards and then lay up from there (though he made a neat up-and-down for a driver-wedge-wedge-wedge par). The crowd’s collective disappointment hung heavy in the air.
An OB tee shot leads to a double bogey on the par-5 15th for Tiger Woods.
He’s +3 on the two par-5s today. pic.twitter.com/f07HBOeHZc
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) May 31, 2018
Woods has struggled to get off to hot starts on Tour this year; he has broken 70 just once and ranks T103 in first-round scoring. Adding to his inauspicious beginning was that up ahead, Beau Hossler (who would go on to shoot 66) and Abraham Ancer (65) had each already banked a handful of birdies on the soft, still morning.
“I didn’t really feel my swing very well,” Woods said. “And consequently I hit it both ways, mainly left. I wasn’t rotating very well.” Woods said that his back was tight all day — though he added that there was no cause for alarm: this happens sometimes with his fused back. “I don’t have any pain, thank God. It’s just tight. So, no biggy.”
But after Woods bogeyed 16, things turned. He stuck his approach at the 17th from 177 yards to 10 feet, then poured that in for the group’s first birdie of the day.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) May 31, 2018
The sun began to peek through as the group made the turn, and although the wind was picking up, Woods and Rose were, too. Rose birdied 18 and Woods added one at No. 2 after a tight short-iron approach. Woods then ran off three more at 5, 6 and 7 to complete the climb back to even par.
It was hardly an easy finish: He hit the same snipe-hook two-iron off No. 9 and was forced to lay up short of the greenside pond, leaving 62 yards for his third. But he hit a spinny wedge shot to just inside six feet and poured in the putt to salvage a scrambling 72.
“I just hate ending on a bogey,” Woods said. “It was nice to somehow grind out the round, turn it around, and finish even par. Lunch will taste a lot better that way.”
Woods finished the day hitting nine of 14 fairways and 12 of 18 greens, taking 30 putts along the way. Rose finished at 71, while Dufner posted 75. Everyone was chasing Ancer, who posted the low round of the morning with a scorching eight-birdie 65.
Woods’s group tees off on the 1st hole at 1:16 p.m. ET on Friday.