- Quail Hollow Club's greens proved to be a bit tricky for Woods, who is tied for 34th at even par in his first competitive round in four weeks.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When we last saw Tiger Woods in a golf tournament, he was struggling to find consistent iron play at Augusta National.
He’s changed his irons since then, and the TaylorMades weren’t the problem Thursday at Quail Hollow Club. It was his putter. Woods, even par after the first round of the Wells Fargo Championship, had 31 putts in his first competitive round in four weeks.
Woods couldn’t navigate the greens here, which were replaced leading up to last year’s PGA Championship and have significant bounce to them on approach shots.
“They’re on the slower side,” Woods said. “They feel springy and they feel fast, especially when I’m walking on them, but they’re not putting that way. What I was feeling and sensing just didn’t match up.”
Grouped with Brooks Koepka and 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed (similarly clothed in a pink Nike shirt on day one), Woods was welcomed back to Charlotte with the largest gallery of any player. It’s been six years since he last played at Quail, nine years since he last made the cut and 11 years since his victory at what was then known as the Wachovia Championship.
Woods has failed to make the cut in his previous two trips to Quail, making the tournament the only non-major where Woods has failed to make the cut more than once in his entire career.
But he’s tied for 34th after the first round, and even with poor putting, his ball striking will keep him in the hunt. He figured he would have shot two or three under par if he could have understood Quail Hollow’s greens better.
Woods’ first hiccup came on the par-3 4th, a gimmicky green that he would three-putt. He birdied 7 and 8 to make the turn at one under before giving it back at 10 when his drive missed carrying the bunker by a yard. His birdie try at 12 was comically wide, and he missed a 4-footer at the par-4 14th to settle for par.
Another three-putt fell Woods at the start of the Green Mile, Quail Hollow’s long and difficult three-hole finish. Woods ran his 15-foot birdie try past the hole at 16 and had a pitiful lag birdie putt off the green at 17 that left him 17 feet for his par. Of course, a testy right-to-left putt from within 10 feet slid past the cup on 18 to keep Woods at even par going into his 7:40 a.m. tee time Friday.
John Peterson leads the event at six under after consecutive eagles on 7 and 8. The only ‘name’ on the front page of the leaderboard is two-time champion Rory McIlroy at three under. In recent years this tournament hasn’t seen the kind of names it wants capturing the title: Derek Ernst, J.B. Holmes, McIlroy, James Hahn and Brian Harman have been the winners since 2013.
"The way this golf course is set up and the way it's playing right now, the guys are going to be stacked. We're all going to be close," Woods said. "There's going to be probably, I'm guessing, 15 guys or so with a chance on Sunday."
Quail Hollow Club is still riding high from its PGA Championship last August that saw Justin Thomas win his first major. But officials are keenly aware of the Tiger Effect. Last year’s PGA final round drew a 3.6 overnight TV rating, the second-lowest since at least 1995 according to Sports Media Watch. But Woods’ second-place finish at the Valspar Championship in March delivered a whopping 5.1 rating, the biggest non-major round since 2013.
That’s what Charlotte, and the rest of the golf world, is looking for this weekend. But first Woods has to get his putter working. So after his media obligations Thursday evening, he stepped off the podium and went straight to the putting green.