Tiger Woods made five birdies and one bogey en route to his lowest opening round of the season.
Tiger Woods started his quest for a ninth WGC-Bridgestone Inviational title in ideal fashion, firing a four-under 66 despite making his first bogey of the day on his final hole. It's Woods' lowest opening-round score of the season and his lowest Thursday round since a 64 at the 2015 Wyndham Championship.
Taking advantage of ideal scoring conditions at Firestone Country Club, Woods put on a ball striking clinic on his opening nine—the back side, as he and playing partner Jason Day (who shot 65) started the day on the 10th tee—finding seven of eight fairways and eight of nine greens en route to a three-under 32. He punctuated a virtually perfect front side with a 50-foot birdie putt on 18.
Woods hit a few minor speedbumps on his back nine, at one point missing five consecutive fairways while fighting a two-way miss, but he was able to sandwich birdies at 5 and 7 with par saves from the rough on 1, 2, 3, 4 and 8. He arrived at the 9th needing par for a bogey-free 65.
It wasn't to be. Woods flailed his driver into a right fairway bunker, and his ball was too close to the front lip to go for the green from roughly 190 yards away. His layup found the left rough and he was unable to get up and down to pull off yet another par save.
When he finished his round, Woods was three shots back of leader Kyle Stanley, who shot seven-under 63 to set the pace.
"I didn't quite hit the ball as well as I wanted to today. It was kind of a grind." Woods said after the round.
"Really felt like I putted well."
This is the last edition of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone, as this tournament will be replaced in the World Golf Championship rotation by what will be the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis.
Woods will be sorry to see this event move from Firestone, as there is perhaps no other course he plays better. He has 11 top-fives total as well as the eight titles, and this was his 17th round of 66 better at Firestone.
This was the 51st time in Woods' career that he has started an event with 66 or better; he was won 21 of those times, per Golf Channel's Justin Ray.
Below is a hole-by-hole summary of Woods' round.
Hole 9, Par 4 - Bogey, -4 for day
Argh, the first bogey of the day comes at the last.
Another miss with the driver, this time into a right fairway bunker. For the first time today, he wasn't able to give his second shot a lash at the green because the fairway bunker lip prevented him from having a go from 190ish yards. He hit a poor layup into the left rough and wasn't able to get up and down for par.
That'll leave a bad taste in his mouth, but a four-under 66 is a fantastic start to the tournament.
Hole 8, Par 4 - Par, -5 for day
Another par save after a missed fairway. This one was made with the second shot, a cut from the deep rough that chased up the center of the green and finished hole high. His birdie effort was right on line but finished about a foot short, and he'll move to the 18th needing a par for 65.
Hole 7, Par 3 - Birdie, -5 for day
This has a good chance of being his best opening round of the year after his fifth birdie of the day. Tiger played safely left of a tucked right pin, and his approach from 8- was perfect for distance, leaving about 30 feet to the cup. He poured yet another long birdie in to get to five-under for the day. He's in a tie for second with Rory McIlroy and is just two back of the lead.
Tiger's often struggled to get into red numbers on Thursday. Not today—he's put himself right into the thick of things at a course he knows better than any other. Beware, field.
Hole 6, Par 4 - Par, -4 for day
The missed-fairway streak is over, as Tiger hit a peeling cut with the driver into the ride side of the short stuff. From there, he hit a high-cut seven iron to the right side of the green, about 30 feet from the hole. His right-to-left birdie putt missed on the high side, leaving a tap-in par.
Hole 5, Par 3 - Birdie, -4 for day
After saving pars like he did on the last three holes, sometimes that can jumpstart a round. All it takes is one good swing to get back on track, and Woods made one at the par-3 5th, hititng a towering iron that plopped down about 15 feet above the hole. His downhill, left-to-right birdie effort was dead-center.
He's now four-under through 14 and still hasn't made a bogey. Creeping up the leaderboard.
Hole 4, Par 4 - Par, -3 for day
The missed-fairway train rolls on for the fifth consecutive time, as Tiger missed right with the driver this time. It was so far right that it missed a bunker and finished in trampled down rough, but it looked like he'd have to deal with a tower of sorts in his line. After consulting a rules official, he decided to simply go around it, and he struck a high 9-iron to the right side of the green. Two putts from there and it's a par.
Hole 3, Par 4 - Par, -3 for day
The ball striking has gone a bit squirly, but he keeps grinding out pars.
Another left miss with that driving iron put him in the left rough with the ball below his feet. Consequently, he wasn't able to turn over a 9-iron and found the back right bunker. He drew a solid lie on the upslope and hit a routine one to tap-in range.
He's not striking it as well as he was in the beginning of the round, having missed four fairways in a row, but he's saved par two times in a row. Equally important.
Hole 2, Par 5 - Par, -3 for day
That was a bit of an adventure. He went with driver on this drivable par 5 but hit another pull way left. It hit trees again and got a fortunate bounce back toward the fairway, finishing in some trampled down frough 230 yards from the hole. Instead of laying up to a wedge yardage, he tried to hit a rope hook. It didn't turn, finishing in some thick stuff about 20 yards right of the green.
His third was decent enough, going right at the flag but tumbling long, then he got frisky with the birdie effort. It ran by about seven feet past, but he collected himself and brushed in the par.
It's a bit of a missed opportunity on what will play as the easiest hole on the course, but making that par effort was big for momentum. Still bogey-free.
Hole 1, Par 4 - Par, -3 for day
A bit of an unlucky break, as his driving iron ran through the fairway into the primary cut on the left side. From there, he hit a punch 9-iron that flew right over the flag and trickled onto the back fringe. His birdie effort was perfect for speed yet again—unsurprisingly, his speed has been impeccable on these greens, which he's so familiar with—but missed just to the right. Tap-in par.
Hole 18, Par 4 - Birdie, -3 for day
Absolutely stole a birdie there.
Woods went with driver and tried to hit a draw, but he pulled it into the left trees. He got a bit of a lucky break as his ball finished next to a sprinkler head, so he could drop it to the right and get closer to the fairway, but the drop resulted in an awful lie. From 170 yards out, he took a mighty lash and managed a low draw that ran up onto the front fringe, 50 feet from the cup.
His uphill, left-to-right birdie effort was tracking...tracking...caught the left lip and fell in. An incredible birdie to turn in three-under 32.
Stats through 9: 7/8 fairways, 8/9 greens, 14 putts, three-under 32
Hole 17, Par 4 - Par, -2 for day
At the British Open a couple weeks ago, Tiger wore out the sweet spot with his 3-iron, hitting it off the tee something like 10 times per round. It took 8 holes for him to pull that club off the tee at Firesonte, though his first one of the day was a beauty right down the middle. His iron approach was once again right at the flag but once again short of the flag, and once again his long birdie effort was a bit of a misread. Once again, the speed was perfect, and it's another tap-in par.
Hole 16, Par 5 - Birdie, -2 for day
Tiger went driver off this comically long par 5—roughly 660 yards—and hit (for him) the ultra-rare draw. It caught the right side of the fairway then caught a slope, running out to 330 yards. He still had more than 300 into the green, so he laid up to 94 yards. His third shot almost dunked into the hole but spun back to about 10 feet below the hole.
The birdie putt found the bottom. Two under through seven, absolutely cruising. Swing looks great, and he looks completely into the flow of the round.
Hole 15, Par 3 - Par, -1 for day
Six greens in a row, all of which came as the result of good iron swings. This one was an aggressive long iron to the 225-yard 15th, a draw that was overdone just a hair but kicked off a bunker and rolled out to 15 feet. He thought his birdie putt would break right, toward the front of the green, but it stayed really straight and didn't catch the hole. A misread.
He's cruising along nicely, but he'll want to make a birdie on the par-6 16th. He's simply hitting it too well to be just one under for the round.
Hole 14, Par 4 - Par, -1 for day
Another stress-free par. Tiger went with 3-wood and found the fairway yet again, but he left himself over 200 yards by going a bit conserative. (Day went with driver). He hit a high cut from the fairway that he loved—he twirled the club—but it just barely cleared the front bunker and finished 32 feet short of the hole.
His birdie effort climbed over a ridge and started breaking hard left-to-right, but it needed another couple rotations to fall in. A tap-in par and he's off to the difficult par-3 15th.
Side note: How about this pace of play?! Woods and Day, the latter of whom does not set any speed records, have played five holes in an hour. This twosome thing...I can get used to this.
Hole 13, Par 4 - Par, -1 for day
First poor swing of the day came on the 13th tee, as Tiger got under a driver and blocked it into the right trees. He got a members' bounce—when you win somewhere eight times, I think you get honorary membership—back into the center of the fairway but was some 50 yards behind Jason Day, who found the fairway more conventionally.
Tiger pounded a high 7-iron from 202 yards and hit one right on line, about 25 feet short of the flag. His birdie effort never had a chance but was perfect for speed, leading to a tap-in par.
Hole 12, Par 3 - Par, -1 for day
Tiger played to the fat part of the green on the 185-yard 12th and hit a good one that prompted Jason Day to mutter "good swing there, mate" in his buttery Australian accent. The 30-foot birdie effort was a bit of a misread and raced by on the left, leaving four feet for par. No issues with that one. Onward.
Hole 11, Par 4 - Birdie, -1 for day
It's early, but man does Tiger's swing look good. Another twirler with the 3-wood, then another absolutely perfect approach with a punch 9-iron. The approach almost landed long in the rough past a back pin, but it caught the back fringe and moseyed down to about four feet above the hole. Luckily for Tiger, Jason Day's approach finished on the same line just a foot further out, and Tiger got a front-row view as Day poured it right in the heart for birdie. Tiger did the same.
An ideal start—four perfect swings and an early birdie to get into the red. The quest for nine is off to a solid start.
Hole 10, Par 4 - Par, E for day
Tiger—who is wearing a blue shirt and gray pants, for those interested in that sort of stuff—went with 3-wood off the first tee and hit a beautiful slight-fade right into the middle of the fairway. That left 124 yards to a front-right pin, and he hit a knockdown wedge that spun back to about eight feet short of the hole. His right-to-lef birdie effort lacked proper pace and missed, barely grazing the left-side lip.
He'd certainly have liked to knock that in and get into red numbers quickly, but those were two very solid swings to start his day. Can't ever be too upset with a tap-in par on an opening-hole Par 4.