- Tiger Woods was four-over par through his first seven holes but battled back to salvage an even-par 72 in his return to the Memorial.
Not all even-par rounds are equal.
Many of them are of the ho-hum variety—a few birdies here, a few bogeys there, a four-hour long dance with even-par. Others are all over the place—maybe you start hot and collapse toward the end. Or maybe you start terribly and battle back to salvage a round, and possibly a tournament.
Tiger Woods' even-par 72 to open the Memorial falls under that last description. In his first start at Muirfield Village since 2015, Woods played his first seven holes in four-over par, including navigating the two par 5's on the back nine (he started on 10) in an abysmal 13 strokes.
But as he always does, Tiger never lost focus or gave up on the round, and his fortune started to turn on the front nine. Woods made four birdies against a lone bogey on the front to closei n three-under 33 and get into the clubhouse at 72.
He was seven back of leader Abraham Ancer, who took advantage of a soft course to shoot a seven-under 65 early in the morning, but it appeared for a while that Woods' return to Dublin, Ohio might end after two days. He managed to keep himself alive in the tournament, though he'll be looking for a much lower round on Friday to shoot himself back into contention.
After the round, Woods admitted that his back was tight all day and that it affected his rotation, and thus his swing. He said he was able to make a few adjustments to accomodate for the tightness and made better swings on his second nine.
"I just have days like that,'' Woods told assembled reporters. "It's aging and it's surgeries. It is what it is. Just got to make the adjustments. I'm able to make them now. Beginning of the year, I wasn't able to make them, because I didn't really know what to do yet.''
Below is a hole-by-hole summary of his round.
For those concerned: Tiger's going with a relatively understated look, featuring a white shirt with that signature stripe down the middle of the back, light grey pants and a white hat.
Hole 10, Par 4 - Par, E for the day
Woods opted for a 3-wood off the tee and hit a slight pull that found a bunker left of the fairway. The ball rolled toward the front of the bunker, in close proximity to a lip that was taller than head-height. That left what looked to be a really difficult shot—could he get it high enough to clear the lip and still fly it 150-odd yards to land it on the green? Here's a look at what he was facing.
Tiger took a mighty last, and the ball came out clean and landed safely in the middle of the green. His birdie effort of 40 feet was a prefect lag, leaving a tap-in par to start the day. The par-5 11th is up next.
Hole 11, Par 5 - Bogey, +1 for the day
Sloppy, sloppy hole all around. Tiger went for his stinger driving iron off the tee, a shot he's hit really well of late, but hit a dead pull that finished left of a creek that lines of the fairway and ended up in very thick rough. He could only advance his second shot about 50 yards, leaving himself a full 270 yards to the hole for his third. He went with that long iron again and came up woefully short in the water. He took a penalty drop then hit a nice spinning pitch to three feet and holed that for bogey. Disaster avoided, but bogeying a par 5 never leaves a good taste in the mouth.
Hole 12, Par 3 - Par, +1 for the day
After Justin Rose and Jason Dufner played well left of the pin, which is on the right side of this par -3 that has water in front, Tiger took a more aggressive line and hit the best tee shot of the three. He hit it a mid iron perfetly pin high to 12 feet, but his birdie putt slid by on the high side. Good to right the ship after some shaky ball striking to start his round, but he would have loved to erase the bogey at 11 right there.
Hole 13, Par 4 - Par, +1 for the day
Another left miss off the tee with the 3-wood, meaning Tiger has missed his first three fairways. And just like at 10, Tiger found himself near the front of a fairway bunker with a massive lip. It was nearly a carbon copy of his opening hole:
Again, he picked it perfectly and safely found the center of the green. His downhill birdie putt from 30-odd feet missed left, leaving a solid four feet for par. He brushed that in without incident for par.
Hole 14, Par 4 - Par, +1 for the day
After watching Justin Rose tug his tee shot into a creek left of the fairway, Tiger striped a stinger right down the pipe. He then played safe left of a right pin and hit it to 19 feet, but his putt missed short and low and never really had a chance. A ho-hum par with a par 5 coming up next. Time to get the birdies flowing.
Hole 15, Par 5 - Double bogey, +3 for the day
This round is officially in trouble.
Tiger went with driver on this very reachable par 5 and made an absolutely abysmal swing—no rhythm, a total lash at it—and the ball started right and drifted even further right. It struck a tree and ended up in someone's backyard, which is out of bounds, so he had to reload from the tee. His second tee shot found the right side of the fairway, and his fourth from the fairway found the greenside bunker. He hit a decent bunker shot to seven feet directly below the hole but his bogey putt failed to scare the hole.
So, on the two par 5's on the back nine, Tiger made a bogey and a double bogey. Thirteen strokes. Yikes, yikes, yikes. His par 5 scoring has been a weakness this year, and he's really put himself behind the 8 ball in this round. The goal now has to be to get back to even par, but Woods is in trouble early.
Hole 16, Par 3 - Bogey, +4 for the day
Rose and Dufner safely found the green on this 210-yard par 3, but Tiger tugged his tee shot and found a bunker long and left of the green. That was not a good spot to miss, as the pin was in the back, but Tiger hit a qualify bunker shot that left himself about six feet below the hole. His par effort lipped out on the low side and he is now +4 through 7.
Of course, there's a lot of golf to be played, but Tiger's chances of making the cut are comfortably below 50% at the moment.
Hole 17, Par 4 - Birdie, +3 for the day
Finally, Tiger's on the board. Two perfect shots here—a 3-wood right down the pipe, then a mid-iron that never flew right over the flag and finished 11 feet above the hole. He curled a left-to-right putt right into the middle for his first birdie of the day. Still a lot of work to do to salvage a decent round, especially with scoring conditions as good as they are, but a nice start.
Hole 18, Par 4 - Par, +3 for the day, 3-over 39 on front
Another beautiful tee shot with the 3-wood found the center of the fairway. He left himself 180 yards into the difficult finishing hole and hit another solid iron shot to around 15 feet. The putt he hit was very similar to the one on 14, meaning it was left-to-right and that he didn't get it to the hole. A tap-in par for a three-over 39 on his opening nine.
His halftime stats: 3/7 fairways, 6/9 greens, 16 putts.
Hole 1, Par 4 - Par, +3 for the day
The ball striking has straightened itself out, that's for sure. Tiger found another fairway with the 3-wood, but tugged his approach slightly and begged for it to sit as it approached the green. For once, the ball listened—amazing how the ball seems to listen to professionals—and stopped just left of the green in light rough. He went with a low chip that didn't scare the hole but left a tap-in par.
Hole 2, Par 4 - Birdie, +2 for the day
Do I dare say Tiger's got a bit of momentum? He seems to have found a rhythm with the 3-wood, as he peeled off another slight cut into the middle of the fairway. He got a bit of an unlucky break as his ball bounced backward in the wet fairway—it's humid in Dublin, and rain is expected later in the day—and he had some mud on the back of his ball. That didn't seem to affect his approach though, as he hit a beautiful short iron to seven feet. He converted the birdie for his second birdie in four holes and is back to +2 for the day.
Hole 3, Par 4 - Par, +2 for the day
Yet another fairway hit, this time with a driving iron—after missing his first three fairways, he's hit six of his last seven—but a misfire with a pitching wedge. He was trying to hit a three-quarter shot and get the ball all the way to a back pin, but he flew it about a foot too far and it nestled way down in rough just over the green. That left a really tough, delicate chip which he managed to perfect, leaving himself about three feet for par. Straight in.
Hole 4, Par 3 - Bogey, +3 for the day
Any momentum that Tiger may have had was sapped on this green.
Tiger hit a nice approach on the 187-yard hole to about 19 feet above the hole. PGA Tour Live displayed a graphic showing that the putt would break slightly from right to left, but Tiger started his put about a foot left of the hole. True to the graphic, the ball broke left, and to add insult to injury, he hit it way too hard. The ball rolled out to about seven feet and his par effort missed badly left. A momentum-sapping bogey in the truest sense of the term.
Hole 5, Par 5 - Birdie, +2 for the day
Some revenge on a par 5. Tiger went with a driving iron for his tee shot and hit a tight draw that found the middle of the fairway (and finished right next to Justin Rose's 3-wood). From 240, he hit a sky-high three iron that landed in the middle of the green but tumbled toward the back edge, leaving 51 feet for eagle. Woods hit a solid but not terrific lag that stopped about four feet short, right on line. His birdie effort snuck in the right side for his third birdie of the day.
After playing the first two par 5's in a dreadful +3, that birdie will feel good. Still one more par 5 ahead at number 7.
Hole 6, Par 4 - Birdie, +1 for the day
Since that shaky start, Tiger's ball striking has actually been quite good today. He went with driver at 6 for the first time since that foul ball that went out of bounds at 15, and he reached for the tee quickly. It was right down the middle, leaving a wedge into a front green. Tiger came up with his best approach of the day—it almost flew in the hole before gently rolling back to three feet. He poured in the birdie with ease for his third birdie in five holes. That three-putt on 4 looks increasingly annoying in hindsight, as he should really be back to even par for the day.
Par 5 next.
Hole 7, Par 5 - Birdie, E for the day
Tiger is probably the greatest grinder in the history of professional golf, and this round shows you why. After being +4 through 7 holes, Tiger just made his third consecutive birdie to get all the way back to even par.
He hit another perfect drive that split the fairway, but because of the wet fairways and humid air, he still had 280 yards into the green. He tried to hit a hard draw with a 3-wood to fly it to the front edge but left it out a bit to the right, finding a bunker. Woods made a 30-yard bunker shoot look remarkably easy, blasting out to about two feet. His fifth birdie of the day offsets the three bogeys and a double, and Woods has two holes to get into red numbers, something that looked very unlikely about two hours ago.
Hole 8, Par 3 - Par, E for the day
Tiger hit a cut into the fat part of the green but misread his birdie putt. He thought it was going to fall right...it fell left. Still, the speed was perfect and it led to a tap-in par.
Hole 9, Par 4 - Par, even-par 72 for the day
Tiger's last hole was perfectly emblematic of his day. It started terribly, and finished beautifully.
The 9th hole is playing the most difficult today, and the tee shot is into the wind and the fairway is quite narrow. Tiger opted for a lower-than-usual stinger but got quick at the transition and hit a smother-hook into the left trees. It ended up in thick rough, and Tiger had a choice: go for the miracle shot, a 220 yard approach from the rough over a creek, or lay short of the creek and trust the wedge game. Tiger went with the more conservative route, laying up to a flip wedge yardage, then spun a beautiful one to five feet. He poured in the par putt to, somehow, get in at even-par 72.