Making his only start in between the U.S. and British Opens, Tiger Woods opened the Quicken Loans National, a tournament he hosts and one that benefits his foundation, with an even-par 70. He was seven back of the lead and in a tie for 49th when he walked off the difficult TPC Potomac.
Woods started the round with five straight pars before things went awry at the par-4 6th. Woods hit a pull-hook with the driver that struck a tree, then took a fortunate bounce into the crosswalk short of the fairway. Instead of laying up to a good yardage and trying to make par the hard way, Woods opted to go for the green with a cut 3-wood. That decision did not pay dividends, as he found the water then did not get up-and-down for bogey after taking his penalty drop.
Woods then made seven straight pars before picking up his first birdie of the day at the drivable par-4 13th. Woods went for the green with a 3-wood and came up just short, then hit a nice pitch and used his new Taylormade mallet putter to brush in a short birdie putt.
Speaking of that putter, which has been a topic of discussion this week as it's the first time Woods has used a mallet in competition, the new flatstick didn't exactly spark a drastic turnaround for Tiger, who has struggled mightily on the greens in recent tournaments. He missed makeable birdie putts at 5, 8 and 13 and finished the round with a -1.2 strokes gained putting.
"I rolled it good today," Woods told Golf Channel's George Savaricas after the round. "I really did. I hit a lot of good putts early that didn’t go in, I misread a couple on the back nine, but overall I hit a lot of good putts. It was nice to feel that and it was nice to feel the putter swinging again.” He did not suggest that he would switch putters before Friday, when he'll tee off at 8:20 a.m. ET.
After the birdie at 13, Woods missed a seven footer for a second straight birdie at 14 but managed to birdie the par-4 15th. Three more pars, including an up-and-down at 18, added up to an even-par 70.
Woods has now shot an opening-round score of even par in four of his last five events and six of the 11 official PGA Tour starts he's made this year.
This is likely the last time this tournament is played in the Washington, D.C. area—TPC Potomac, located in Maryland, is about 17 miles northwest from the White House—as the tournament has struggled to find a title sponsor. Quicken Loans will sponsor a tournament in Detroit starting next year.
Below is a hole-by-hole recap of Woods' round.
Hole 18, Par 4 - Par, E for the day
This is one of those Tour-only pars. By that I mean, Tiger hit the ball so far right that it found one of those areas that's trampled down by galleries, so his ball was lying just fine miles off the fairway. From there, Tiger caught a flier and his ball bounded through the green. He hit a low pitch to about two feet and cleaned that up for an even-par 70. Fifteen pars, two birdies and a lone double-bogey.
Hole 17, Par 3 - Par, E for the day
Tiger played safely left of the pin on this par 3, which is guarded by water short and right of the green. His 25-footer for birdie slid by on the left, leaving another tap-in par. One more chance to get into red figures before Friday's early tee time.
Hole 16, Par 4 - Birdie, E for the day
All the way back to even par with a textbook birdie. Drive down the middle, iron approach perfectly pin high, putt sneaks in the right side. That's two birdies in three holes for Woods, with a near-miss from seven feet in between. He seems to be dialed in with the irons and could get back to red numbers for the day.
Hole 15, Par 4 - Par, +1 for the day
Well, Tiger didn't waste much time in giving himself another look at birdie. Woods piped a driver 343 yards right down the center, leaving just 134 yards to the pin. He flighted a pitching wedge and controlled the distance perfectly, but his seven-footer for birdie was right the whole way. That looked like a push, rather than a misread. A tap-in par. Onward.
Hole 14, Par 4 - Birdie, +1 for the day
We're on the board! On this drivable par 4, which plays about 310, Tiger hit a beautiful 3-wood that landed just short of the green and was unlucky not to kick forward. He hit a really tidy pitch from about 30 yards to three feet and knocked the birdie effort right in the center.
TPC Potomac has a difficult closing stretch, so Woods' odds of getting back to even aren't fantastic, but let's see if he can steal one more and salvage the round.
Hole 13, Par 4 - Par, +2 for the day
Okay, it's officially a "putting woes continue" day. Tiger split the fairway with a driving iron then hit a nifty wedge just over the flag to six feet. A perfect opportunity to get on the board with his first birdie of the day...but it wasn't to be. A tap-in par, but Tiger's frustrated after that one. Gesturing, the whole deal.
Hole 12, Par 3 - Par, +2 for the day
A solid cut 8-iron to this back-right pin, leaving 15 feet for birdie. It was a right-to-left curler, and his effort went begging on the low side. Still seraching for the first birdie of the day, and I believe the longest put he's made today has been five feet.
Hole 11, Par 4 - Par, +2 for the day
Another really good par save. After missing left on 10, Woods overcompensated and hit a push-fade with the driving iron right of the cart path. An overhanging tree made a full shot into this difficult par 4—which played as the hardest par 4 on the PGA Tour last season—so he pitched out to leave himself a wedge. His third was right at the flag and finished about five feet below the hole, and his par effort was dead center.
Two really good saves in a row—let's see if he can build on that momentum. Still looking for the first birdie of the day.
Hole 10, Par 5 - Par, +2 for the day
Not all pars are created equal, and this was one of those pars that feels like a birdie.
The par-5 10th, the last par 5 on this par-70 layout, has water all along the left side. Tiger smothered a driving iron that started left and flew more left, finding that hazard. He was able to get a club to it, though, and advanced it about 50 yards up the fairway, leaving himself a 3-iron to the green. His approach didn't draw quite enough and finished just left of the putting surface, leaving a delicate chip. He managed to get it up-and-down with an awesome flop shot and saved par on a hole where bogey seemed likely after the tee shot.
Hole 9, Par 3 - Par, +2 for the day
A laser 9-iron to about 25 feet below the hole. A solid birdie effort but it doesn't drop, leaving a tap-in par. Halftime stats: 3/7 fairways, 7/9 greens, 16 putts. He made roughly 20 feet of putts for the entire nine holes.
Hole 8, Par 4 - Par, +2 for the day
As they say, it's starting to get late early.
Tiger hit a high cut with his 3-wood into the first cut of rough on the right side. His approach was dead online and finished about 14 feet past the hole, leaving a pretty straightforward birdie putt. His effort was right the entire way and was a solid foot right of the hole when it went by, despite their being virtually no break.
In this recent period of putting woes, a big issue for Tiger has been choosing the right line. He's discussed about having difficulty reading greens as well as being able to get the ball started on the line he's chosen. That seemed to be the issue here. The stroke looks fine, the ball just isn't traveling on the right track.
Hole 7, Par 4 - Par, +2 for the day
Woods missed the fairway with a fairway wood to the right, but managed a solid approach to find the center of the green. A solid two-putt par here to steady things after that double. Woods is still yet to make a birdie on the day.
Hole 6, Par 4 - Double bogey, +2 for the day
Perhaps frustrated by the miss on 5, Tiger attempted to hit a cut on 6 but pull-hooked his drive low-left into the trees. He got a fortunate bounce back into the crosswalk, leaving 280 yards to the green. Instead of laying up to a wedge yardage and limiting the damage to a bogey at worst, Tiger decided to hit three wood despite water all along the left side. He found that water, then took a drop in the rough and played left of the green with his fourth. He putted from the fringe and left his bogey effort well short, leaving a four-footer knee-knocker for double, which he made.
You have to question Woods' decision to hit the three wood there, particularly a cut three wood, as he set up for.
Hole 5, Par 4 - Par, E for day
Missed opportunity with the putter. Sound familiar?
Tiger hit another perfect driving iron down the center then hit a wedge that landed just past the hole, then spun back to about 10 feet below the hole. A perfect opportunity to roll in a birdie putt and get into the red, but Tiger's effort was never close and slid by on the left side. Those are the types of putts you need to make to be a world-class player. It's obviously still early in this tournament, but it's not ideal to miss one like that, particularly given his recent history.
Hole 4, Par 4 - Par, E for day
One thing Tiger hasn't struggled with this season is his patented stinger, which is unquestionably back. Woods took his driving iron and striped a low draw down the center of the fairway, but the ball rode the fairway's right-to-left slope and finished in the left first cut. With the ball well above his feet, Tiger hit a draw that finished short and left of the flag. His birdie putt was an aggressive but good one—it didn't go in but left another three-footer for par, this one with a little right-to-left break. Another good stroke and another par.
Hole 3, Par 3 - Par, E for day
What a difference a couple weeks makes. A fortnight ago at Shinnecock, Tiger started his U.S. Open about as poorly as one can—with a triple bogey-bogey start, he was four-over within half an hour. At TPC Potomac—granted, on a much friendlier course and without major-championship pressure—Woods has started with three ho-hum pars.
On the 232-yard 3rd, Woods caught his tee shot a little heavy but still found the front left of the green. That left a 52-footer straight uphill for birdie, and Woods' lag finished a bit short, leaving a three-and-a-half footer for par. Not exactly a tap-in, but certainly an early indication of how Woods is feeling with the mallet. His par putt was dead-center.
Hole 2, Par 5 - Par, E for day
Another perfect driver right into the center of the 635-yard, par-5 2nd. Even after pumping one 308, Tiger still had over 320 yards to the green, so he laid up with an iron to a preferred wedge difference. His approach flew right over the flag but finished in some rough over the green, leaving a short-sided chip. He was fortuante to catch a good lie and hit a perfect chip that finished one roll short of going in. Another tap-in par, and the mallet has not been tested yet.
Hole 1, Par 4 - Par, E for day
Tiger started the tournament with a perfect drive right down the center of the fairway. That left 140ish yards to a front pin tucked over a bunker, and Tiger played left of the flag with a pitching wedge. The distance control was on point, leaving a 30-footer uphill for birdie. With the Taylormade mallet, Tiger put a good roll on it but the putt slid by on the right side. A tap-in par.
Looking like the mallet!
Tiger, whose wearing a pink and white shirt with grey pants, warmed up on the putting green using the Taylormade mallet. So it would appear that's the flatstick he's going with in competition. Often times a new putter can spark a turnaround when a guy is struggling. Missing too many short ones with one putter can adverseley affect a player's feeling toward that putter, and putting is all about confidence. Let's see if the switch pays off for Tiger, who is 89th in strokes gained putting for the season.