Cam Cole: Tiger's confidence and execution not encouraging

 

 
 
 
 
Tiger Woods shakes hands with Jordan Spieth on the 18th green during the first round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale on January 29, 2015 in Scottsdale, Arizona.
 

Tiger Woods shakes hands with Jordan Spieth on the 18th green during the first round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale on January 29, 2015 in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Photograph by: Sam Greenwood, Getty Images

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — In the beginning, they meant well.

Like the voice on the first tee box of the Waste Management Phoenix Open when Tiger Woods, after receiving a warm ovation, launched his tee shot far right into the gravelly sand of a “native area” wide of the cart path.

“It’s a long year, Tiger!” the fan yelled. He meant it was only one shot and there was plenty of golf left, not: “Oh, boy, it’s going to be a long year.”

Or the shout from the gallery on the fourth hole, when his drive again headed for a waste area: “Hey, Tiger, thanks for coming!” Probably meant “Nice to see you in Phoenix again after all these years,” but it sounded like: “You might as well hit the road.”

And that could be how it turns out for the 39-year-old who only a year ago was the No. 1-ranked player on earth.

Even with a rousing eagle at the par-five 13th, where his five-iron shot from 226 yards rolled to within seven inches of the cup, and a kick-in birdie at the 341-yard 17th after driving the green, the skinny on Tiger’s golf swing, confidence and execution was not encouraging.

He’s tied for 105th, and will need something low to make the cut. And it could have been worse.

Spraying drives, hitting more galleries than fairways, leaving iron shots short and right, chipping like a 10-handicapper, the now 47th-ranked golfer began his 2015 season with a two-over-par 73 that had 80 written all over it after 11 holes — a performance that couldn’t have been further from his confident expectations if he’d decided to play left-handed.

Not that there’d be anything wrong with that.

He had talked about the “thousands and thousands” of practice chips he had hit trying to correct his disastrous short game at the Hero World Challenge in December, his only other tournament in the last six months.

“I’m just having a hard time finding the bottom, because with my old pattern, I was so steep on (the chip shots),” said Woods, who seemed to be followed by most of the 118,000-plus fans, a Thursday record, who jammed the TPC of Scottsdale.

“I have a new grind on my wedge, and sometimes it’s hard to trust.”

He had said the most encouraging part of his game was how he was hitting the driver. But he couldn’t take it from the driving range to the golf course. He hit only four of 14 fairways, and was left searching for swing thoughts and any semblance of a consistent chipping motion.

“I got into the flow of the round, but it was just about trying to be committed to the swing change, I’m so much shallower than I used to be, it’s hard to believe I can get the club to the ground sometimes,” he said.

“I struggled at the beginning. Started to fix it on the back nine, but it was my second tournament in six months, so I just need tournament rounds like this where I can turn it around, grind through it, make adjustments on the fly.

“I’ve been through it before. It takes time.”

By the fifth tee, the 21-year-old with whom he was paired, Jordan Spieth, had him by six strokes. Spieth ended up shooting 70, while the group’s other member, Patrick Reed shot 71.

That was a long way from the lead, where Ryan Palmer shot seven-under-par 64, for a one-stroke edge on Bubba Watson and Keegan Bradley.

Canada’s Graham DeLaet was tied for ninth after a 67.

“I played behind Tiger. I could feel his crowd was really big,” said Watson, the two-time Masters champion and a crowd favourite in his own right.

“You could feel it, the energy. Even with the weather being kind of spotty, people still showed up, and had a blast, and obviously Tiger created a lot of that.”

It was an adventure, even when Woods was making two bogeys and a double on the first four holes.

By the 11th, where Woods had made yet another trip into the cactus-strewn native area, then hit a tree and had to scramble for bogey, he was five over par and had hit every kind of chip except a good one. He even putted from 15 yards off the green at the sixth hole after hitting a couple of chips fat and a couple thin on previous holes.

Then, as if he’d suffered enough, the golf gods relented. But not before putting him through the wringer. The top of the game, where he reigned for so long, looks a million miles away.

“Physically, I feel great. Mentally, I’m a little tired from the grind of trying to piece together a round,” he said. “When I was five over par, I fought back, and I’m proud of that, but that takes a lot of mental energy.”

ccole@vancouversun.com

Twitter.com/rcamcole

 
 
 
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Tiger Woods shakes hands with Jordan Spieth on the 18th green during the first round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale on January 29, 2015 in Scottsdale, Arizona.
 

Tiger Woods shakes hands with Jordan Spieth on the 18th green during the first round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale on January 29, 2015 in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Photograph by: Sam Greenwood, Getty Images

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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