By Sean Martin, Golfweek
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods’ last competitive round at PGA National was the best Sunday of his career, a remarkable round capped by an eagle that almost allowed him to catch the player trying to become No. 1 in the world.
Thursday’s round was less eventful. Woods, who closed last year’s Honda Classic with a 62 that left him two shots behind Rory McIlroy, opened this year’s Honda with an even-par 70 that included 14 pars. Woods missed just four greens and five fairways on Thursday.
“Hit a lot of good shots but didn’t make anything,” said Woods, who had 32 putts. “It was pretty much a boring day on the greens.”
The biggest news was Woods’ removal of his shoes at the sixth hole, his 15th, as he hit a ball out of water left of the fairway. He wedged back to the short grass, then saved par. He was staring at a possible triple-bogey if he would have had to drop in the rough, he said. “Could easily have been (3 over) and all of a sudden I’m even,” Woods said.
He was five shots behind Branden Grace and Graham DeLaet after the morning wave. Grace, No. 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking, is playing this week on a sponsor exemption.
Woods, who lost in the first round of last week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, appeared comfortable with his swing all day. There weren’t big misses, though there weren’t any incredible approach shots. It was rather bland. He had just three birdie attempts inside 10 feet.
Dustin Johnson, who played with Woods, shot 66 in Thursday’s soft conditions at PGA National. The Champion Course is annually one of the Tour’s toughest, but rains last night took out some of the bite. Like Woods, Johnson had won earlier this year. Johnson hadn’t finished better than 51st in a stroke-play start since his win at the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions. He also lost in the first round of last week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play, but used the extended break to work with instructor Claude Harmon in nearby Jupiter.
“I didn’t feel like I was swinging bad,” Johnson said. “Just my misses were so bad. I had the lefts going and it was with every club in the bag.”
He was keeping his weight on his left side in the backswing, then shifting his weight to the right at impact, which led to a hook. Teacher and student worked on increasing the width in Johnson’s backswing, and making it shorter, Johnson said. He made five birdies and a single bogey Thursday.
Woods made two birdies and no bogeys on his back nine to finish at even par. He hit an 83-yard wedge shot to 5 feet at the par-5 third hole and holed a 20-footer for birdie at the par-3 seventh. Woods teed off No. 10 at 7:25 a.m. Thursday, and made the turn 2 1/2 hours later in 2-over 37 Thursday after making two bogeys and no birdies. He bogeyed the 10th and 13th from greenside bunkers.
Woods’ appearance here last year is remembered for his final-round 62. It overshadows the fact that he was just 2 under for his first 54 holes, following a first-round 71 with scores of 68-69. He was still in search of his first post-car crash victory at this event in 2012, but has won four Tour titles since.
Woods is coming off a victory in his last stroke-play start, at the Farmers Insurance Open. He didn’t make a bogey in the first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, but lost to Charles Howell III. Woods has played a full schedule this year in comparison to McIlroy, but this is just Woods’ eighth competitive round, and fourth event, of the year. His Farmers win was the only week he’s played more than two rounds.
He has one under his belt this week. No mistakes. No miracles. Just an even-par 70, a score that doesn’t do any harm at the Honda Classic.