CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The beastly, 491-yard ninth hole at the Quail Hollow Club demands a draw off the tee, nothing else. On Thursday afternoon during the first round of the Wells Fargo Championship, Tiger Woods lined up on the right side of the box, came out of his downswing and launched his tee ball right, a huge block into the trees.
His ball, rather improbably, came to rest underneath a CBS Sports cart, just a light toss away from the Champions Park Bar & BBQ, where sunburned spectators repaired under Michelob Ultra tents. On a severe side slope, some 30 yards off the fairway, he crouched to contemplate a possible escape route. None looked appealing. So taking an awkward stance, his feet spread wide to neutralize the slope, he hit a low bullet into the face of the hill, the ball skimming ahead some 20 yards. Still in the rough. Head down. Bogey.
The last time Woods played with Webb Simpson, they were paired together in the final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral. That’s where Tiger withdrew after 11 holes, citing tightness in his Achilles. Simpson remembers that March afternoon too -- “We went from 10,000 people every hole to zero people,” he said with a laugh Thursday.
The fans turned out for this group again at Quail Hollow, to see the local product Simpson, who lives only a mile from the course and shot 65 to share the first-round lead, and Woods, whose narrative now seemingly shifts on a weekly basis.
On Thursday, Woods was undone by the same inconsistency that, save one marvelous week in March, has hampered him all season. Sure, there may have been a little rust. After all, this was Woods’ first tournament in three weeks. But in a video Q&A posted on his website Monday, Woods said the main difference between his play at Bay Hill, where he won by five shots, and Augusta National, where he tied for 40th in his worst performance there as a pro, was as simple as posture. If his posture is poor, then his takeaway is poor, his angles are poor and, ultimately, the result is poor.
Woods was “still fighting it” a few times on the course, he said. When his alignment felt off, or he wasn’t committed to his swing thoughts, he backed off, reset and then let loose. Those moments are “in-game adjustments,” and they allowed him to salvage a 71 when he clearly didn’t have his best stuff.
Afterward, Woods rattled off his mistakes -- a flubbed chip on 1, a poor half-wedge shot on 8, a short-sided miss on 10 -- but felt reasonably optimistic. Warm temperatures, light winds, soft conditions -- oh, Tour players salivate.
It was the third time this season that Woods has broken par in the first round, even if his opening 71 left him well off the pace (T-56). Before he even teed off Thursday, the ‘board was dotted with red numbers -- four 66s, in fact, while two stars, Lee Westwood and Phil Mickelson, each struggled out of the gate but wound up with 71. And the big star playing behind Woods, World No. 2 Rory McIlroy, shot 70.
“It’s still within reach, obviously,” Woods said. “We’ve got a long way to go. ... We’re going to have to go get it.”
-- Ryan Lavner