Tiger Woods Battles Back To Shoot Even Par at PGA; Thomas Posts 69, McIlroy 70

Tiger Woods was three over through two holes but battled back to post an even-par 70 in his opening round of the PGA Championship. 
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Tiger Woods battled back from a disastrous start to post a respectable even-par 70 in his opening round of the PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club. 

Woods bogeyed the first hole after missing the fairway to the right, but the true misfire came at the 355-yard par-4 2nd. After tugging his driving iron into the left rough, the 14-time major and four-time PGA champion inexiplicably found the water with his approach, leading to a double bogey. After about 25 minutes, he was three-over par. 

Tiger's early struggles contrasted the smooth starts that both his playing partners enjoyed. Both Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy were under par after the first couople holes, finding fairways and greens while Woods struggled with erratic ball striking. 

Woods would make two birdies on his opening nine—the back side, as this "supergroup" went off the 10th tee—including one at 18, then followed that up with another on the 1st hole. He would add his fourth birdie of the day at the par-5 8th to get back to even par for the day and made a routine par at 9 for 70.

It was an impressive bounce-back aided by his ability to find fairways toward the end of the round—Bellerive's chief defense is the rough, and Woods found only three of seven fairways on the opening nine. It is no coincidence that once he started to find fairways, he was able to make some birdies. 

Thomas, the defending champion this week and a winner at last week's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, would play his second nine in two over to post 69. McIlroy made nine pars on the second nine to match Woods' 70. 

The grouping will tee off the first tee Friday at 2:48 p.m. EST.

Below is a hole-by-hole summary of all three players' rounds. 

Hole 9, Par 4

Woods: Tiger found the left side of the fairway with a driving iron, finishing just short of a fairway bunker. He pushed his approach and missed a bowl that houses the pin, leaving a slippery right-to-left putt down the hill for birdie. He judged it nicely and tapped in for an even-par 70, an impressive score considering his start to the round. Par, even-par 70

Thomas: Thomas found a fairway bunker and drew a gnarly lie, but he still attempted to go for the green. He caught it heavy barely advanced it, leaving a considerable distance for his third. He found the back of the green and couldn't convert for par, meaning a bogey for a one-under 69. Certainly a solid start, but a bit disappointing considering he was three under and how well he was swinging it early in the round. Bogey, one-under 69

McIlroy: Rory blocked one right and his ball finished in a fenced-off area, meaning he got a free drop. From the right rough he was able to find the center of the green then two putt for par. Not all 70's are created equal—McIlroy struck it great but didn't score as well as Woods, who scored better than McIlroy but didn't hit it as well. Par, even-par 70

Hole 8, Par 5

Woods: About four hours after he was three over through two holes, Tiger's all the way back to even. He smashed a driver down the left side of the fairway then pounded a 3-wood that he thought was going to run u onto the green, but it caught some rough above a greenside bunker. From there, his chip ran out to seven feet and he curled in the birdie putt on the right side. Quite the accomplishment to get it all the way back to even after that start. Birdie, E

Thomas: JT also found the fairway but was outdriven by Tiger again. Still, JT decided to go for it from 300 yards and mishit his 3-wood, finishing in a poor spot about 40 yards short. He had to play safely long of the flag and made par. Par, -2

McIlroy: Rory hit his driver about 20 yards past Tiger—that's been a theme today—and had just 270 in, but his 3-wood caught the greenside bunker left of the hole. He hit a nice spinner that got a bit unlucky with the kick, rolling out to about six feet. He misread the putt and settled for his eighth straight par of this side. Par, E

Hole 7, Par 4

Woods: Tiger striped a driving iron right down the center on this shorter par 4, leaving himself just a 54-degree sand wedge left to a back pin. He didn't carry it far enough to get all the way back there and faced about 40 feet for birdie. The birdie effort was tracking the whole way but ran out of speed late. Another tap-in par. Par, +1

Thomas: Thomas also went with less than driver and found the fairway, but his wedge was better than Tiger's and got to about 10 feet. His birdie effort did a 360-lip out—those stink—and he'd have to settle for par. Par, -2

McIlroy: Rory, always a guy who likes to hit driver whenever he can (even when maybe he shouldn't), pulled the big stick and found bunkers down the right side. He managed to get his second to the right side of the green and hit a really good birdie putt that just barely missed right. Seventh par in a row. Par, E

Hole 6, Par 3

Woods: The 6th is playing as the toughest hole on the course, and Tiger didn't make it easy on himself by missing left again into a collection area long and left of the green. That left a 25-yard pitch off tightly mowed grass over a bunker, but the ball sits up nicely on the zoysia at Bellerive and allows players to hit spinners off fairway grass. Tiger did just that and hit one to four feet, then brushed in the par effort. A really good save. Par, +1

Thomas: JT played last and took the most aggressive line of the group, going right at the pin from 225 but coming up a bit short. It caught the front edge and he was able to two putt from about 50 feet for par. Par, -2

McIlroy: Rory played safely left of the flag and caught the back-left portion of the green, 30ish feet from the cup. He would two putt for his sixth consecutive par on the front side, their second nine of the day. Par, E

Hole 5, Par 5 

Woods: Two more good swings. The first one came with the driver, which he actually hit past McIlroy and Thomas, the first time that's happened all day. Then a short iron just right of the flag to about eight feet. He looked like he tried to jam the putt in and it missed badly on the right. Par, +1

Thomas: JT's tee shot rolled into the first cut on the right, and he hit a solid approach to 20 feet. He looked to have misread the putt, which slid by on the right, before cleaning up the par effort. Par, -2

McIlroy: Rory hit one down the middle and then tugged his approach again—he's done that a few times today, and that's his tendency—to the left fringe. The birdie effort was a bit short but he had no difficulty making par. Par, E

Hole 4, Par 4

Woods: Tiger pounded driver down the left side, but it didn't quite cut back into the fairway and nestled in some deep stuff on this 500-yard par 4. His approach squirted out low and right, rolling into a greenside bunker and short-siding himself a bit. He hit a delightful bunker shot that landed soft to about four feet and brushed it in for par. Another good save, and Tiger's putting stroke has looked solid today. Par, +1

Thomas: First dropped shot of the day for the defending champ, and it was made with the tee shot. He missed right and drew an awkward stance over a bunker. He could only manage to muscle it short of the green in the fairway, then he hit an indifferent chip to about six feet and didn't convert. Bogey, -2

McIlroy: Rory pounded one (189 mph ball speed) down the center but tugged his approach to about 40 feet. Two putts from there and another par for McIlroy. Par, E

Hole 3, Par 3

Woods: On the shortest hole on the course, playing about 150 today over water, Tiger played safely left of the flag and was pine high with his tee shot. His slightly left-to-right birdie putt looked good for a while but ran out of pace. Tap-in par. Par, +1

Thomas: JT got frisky with his tee shot, probably accidentally, and hit one right of the flag in the narrow area between the pin and the water. He was lucky it landed soft, because a few more yards to the right and it could well have been wet. But it stayed on the fringe and left a makeable uphill birdie effort, which he left short. Par, -3

McIlroy: McIlroy hit one on basically the same line as Tiger and also hit a solid birdie effort that didn't fall. Par, E

Hole 2, Par 4 

Woods: Another long iron into the middle of the fairway and another iron right at the flag. This one got a bit unlucky, as it landed past the flag and didn't roll back to catch a slope. That left a delicate left-to-right slider that he was smartly cautious with. A tap-in par, and his ball striking looks to have steadied. Par, +1

Thomas: JT also found this fairway with an iron and, like Tiger, hit a wedge right over the tip of the flag. And like Tiger, his birdie effort from 12 feet wouldn't drop. Par, -3

McIlroy: Rory played this hole as well as possible from tee-to-green, finding the center of the fairway then sticking a wedge to four feet below the pin. But he hated his birdie putt as soon as he hit it—not sure if a pull or if it hit something—and it lipped out on the low side. A disappointing par. Par, E

Hole 1, Par 4

Woods: Tiger hit his first flush driving iron of the day, right down the pipe. That left a short iron to a right pin tucked over a bunker, and he hit a high one that landed perfectly pin high. Right in the middle from 10 feet and Tiger has now made back-to-back birdies, and he's back to one-over for the day. After that disastrous start, he's done a good job of hanging around. Birdie, +1

Thomas: JT found a fairway bunker off the left with a 3-wood then did well to get his approach to the front of the green, but it was still over 60 feet from the cup. He judged the pace well and managed to snuck in his par putt in the edge. Thomas' ball striking hasn't been as pure as it was early in the round, but he's done a nice job of salvaging pars. Par, -3

McIlroy: McIlroy found the fairway with a flushed 3-wood then hit a wedge approach to 24 feet. A solid two-putt par from there keeps at even par. Par, E

Hole 18, Par 4

Woods: After watching Thomas and McIlroy hit driver, Woods went with 3-wood, perhaps playing a bit conservatively knowing he's not been precise with his driver. He found the fairway and left himself a mid-iron, then made probably his best swing of the day, hitting a towering shot that never left the flag. It stopped dead about four feet past the pin and he poured in the first birdie of the day at the finishing hole. Let's see if that can spark some momentum heading to the front nine. He did manage to pay the last seven holes in one-under after that disastrous start. Birdie, +2

Thomas: JT hit another picture-perfect driver—he only missed one fairway on the opening nine—and hit a solid iron that was right at the flag but a bit short. His birdie effort was short the whole way but it's a three-under 32 on the front for the defending champ. Par, -3

McIlroy: A bit of an adventure for Rory, who found the right rough with a bunker. He caught a flier and airmailed the green, finding deep stuff long. After marshals moved a railing to allow him to swing freely, he hit a nice flop shot to about 12 feet but couldn't convert. A bogey for an even-par 35. Bogey, E

Hole 17, Par 5

Woods: Another missed fairway for Woods—he's two of six in that department—into the left bunker, which eliminates any chance he had at going for the par 5 in two. He hit a fine layup to a wedge yardage then dumped his third into a front bunker. Not even close. Something is really, really off with his swing. He hit a nice bunker shot to about five feet and he brushed it in for par. Par, +3

Thomas: First missed fairway of the day for Thomas, who also pulled it into the left fairway bunker. Like Tiger, he laid up, and like Tiger, his wedge shot wasn't his best. But Thomas at least cleared the bunker and left a makeable chip, which he didn't hit the way he wanted but still rolled out to three feet. Nice stroke for par. Par, -3

McIlroy: McIlroy missed left also—three's a crowd—but he cleared the bunker into an awkward lie in the rough. Rory laid up too and was the lone player to hit the green with his wedge, but his approach spun back to about 12 feet and his putt raced by on the right. Cleaned it up for par. Par, -1

Hole 16, Par 3 

Woods: Another dead-pull with a long iron on the 245-yard par 3. This one was ugly and missed badly to the left, bounding off the grandstand into a sunken area well past the green. He took a free drop to get a swing from the grandstand and drew a poor lie, then tried a flop shot that didn't even reach the green. His par chip nearly holed out and it's a tap-in bogey. Bogey, +3

Thomas: A quality long iron to the center of the green, then a two-putt par on this difficult par 3. All you can ask for. Thomas looks fantastic. Par, -3

McIlroy: McIlroy also found the green and got a bit frisky with his birdie putt. However, his par effort was right in the heart and he stays in red numbers. Rory's putting stroke, often a topic of converastion, looks free-flowing. Par, -1

Hole 15, Par 4

Woods: If you can't hit fairways at Bellerive, you're dead. Tiger missed another fairway with the drive badly to the left—this after Thomas and McIlroy found the dead-center of a not-narrow fairway—then tried a rope-hook from the left trees. It hooked too early and too often, staying in the left trees, but he drew a good lie. His third clipped an overhanging tree but managed to carry a front bunker and ran out to five feet. The par putt was dead-center and that's a terrific, perhaps momentum-shifting save, but he has to find fairways or this is going to be a struggle. Par, +2

Thomas: JT hit a two-yard cut right down the center of the fairway, another perfect tee shot, before flagging another iron shot to within five feet. No issues with the birdie putt. Thomas is putting on a clinic early. He hasn't missed a shot and looks primed to put up quite the defense of his title. He's now leading. Birdie, -3

McIlroy: McIlroy pushed his tee shot a bit but caught the right side of the fairway, then it took a nice forward-left kick. From 150ish yards, his approach was right of the flag to about 15 feet and his birdie putt missed on the low side. Tap-in par. Birdie, -1

Hole 14, Par 4

Woods: Tiger went with driving iron and hit a slight pull again–remember, the left one on 11 led to the double-bogey—but this found found the fairway. However, he left himself a poor angle to a left pin and played right of the flag, missing a ridge that guards the pin placement. Thomas gave him a bit of a read on the birdie effort but he didn't glean much apparently, as his 40 footer was short and left the whole way. Not a terrible result, but that was one of the more gettable par 4s on the course. Par, +2

Thomas: JT found his fourth straight fairway but mishit his second a bit, flailing one out short and right to roughly 60 feet. His uphill putt over a ridge finished about four feet short, but he poured another one in. Par, -2

McIlroy: Rory was a bit more aggressive off the tee but found the left rough. He was stymied a bit for his second and played right of the flag, then left his birdie putt a bit short. Solid from about three feet for par. Par, -1

Hole 13, Par 3

Woods: A nice swing with mid-iron for Woods into the 190-yard par 3 left about 20 feet up the hill. He played a little too much left-to-right break on his birdie attempt and it never really had a chance. Still, a stress-free par after an eventful beginning to the round. Par, +2

Thomas: JT pulled one and found the left bunker but had a straightforward shot. He didn't disappoint, managing to get it into tap-in range. Par, -2

McIlroy: Rory's approach was the best of the bunch, carrying just long and right of the flag and finishing 12 feet. He quickly brushed that one in the center—he's been taking less time over his putts and trying to putt more instinctively, as he did when he was in world-beating form in 2014, and his stroke looks very good. Into the red. Birdie, -1

Hole 12, Par 4 

Woods: See how much easier life from the fairway is? Tiger hit driver down the middle, then hit a beautiful wedge that landed about four feet past the pin then gently trickled back. Had a legitimate chance to go in. A kick-in birdie to stop the bleeding. Birdie, +2

Thomas: JT made a funky finish with his driver swing but still found the left side of the fairway. The best wedge player in the world—at least in my opinion—then hit a wedge to about seven feet right over the flag. A beautiful free-flowing putting stroke for his second straight birdie, and it's an ideal start for the defending champ. Birdie, -2

McIlroy: Rory pounded driver 20 yards past his playing competitors but then hit the worst wedge of the bunch. His game in a nutshell, so-to-speak. Two putts from about 15 feet for a par. Par, E

Hole 11, Par 4 

Woods: A disastrous start for Tiger. He went with a driving iron on this 355-yard position hole, which might be the easiest non-par 5 on the entire course. He hit a dead pull into rough on the left side then inexplicably found the water with his second. A horrible shot—he could have played left of the flag and given himself a ton of room to work with, but his ball came out fluffy and right and never had a chance. From the drop zone, he played safely long of the pin and two-putted for double-bogey on a birdie hole. Double bogey, +3

Thomas: Down the left side with a 3-wood then a tasty wedge to about four feet. Dead-center with the putt and that's how you take advantage of a birdie hole—by finding the fairway, then controlling your distance with a wedge. Take notes, Tiger. Birdie, -1

McIlroy: Rory also went with 3-wood and hit a perfect baby draw right down the center. From the middle of the fairway, he tugged a wedge a bit but controlled the distance well and it finished about 10 feet from the hole. Bottoms from there to get back to even par. Birdie, E

Hole 10, Par 4

Woods: Tiger went with driver on this 508-yard par 4 and found the right rough, drawing a thick lie behind a tree. He had virtually no choice but to lay up and looked to have caught his punch-out a little heavy. From there, he hit a short-iron that landed about 40 feet short of the flag and spun back a few feet. His first putt was woefully short but he managed to conver from about six feet for an opening bogey. 

Tiger is going to need to hit fairways with the driver to have any chance this week. He's 0/1 on that front so far. Bogey, +1

Thomas: JT played first and pounded one right down the center, then played safely left of the pin into the fat part of the green. A routine two-putt from there for an opening par for the defending champ. Par, E

McIlroy: Rory hit a driver the hardest of the bunch—that'll be the theme all day—but it carried through the fairway into the rough. He caught his approach a little heavy and found a greenside bunker, then his third was one he'd like over. Two putts fand it's also a bogey for McIlroy. Bogey, +1