By Adam Schupak, Golfweek
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – When Tiger Woods was asked to name the positives from his 1-over 71 in the first round of the Honda Classic, he racked his brain and came up empty.
“I hit it good enough to shoot probably at least three or four lower than I did,” he said. “I had so many looks where I just missed, and I just need to read them a little bit better than I did today.”
Woods' putter was colder than the polar vortex wreaking havoc on much of the United States. After starting on the back nine at PGA National's Champion Course, he missed four birdie putts within 20 feet on his first four holes and opened with eight consecutive pars.
On Wednesday, Woods complained that the greens were slow, and after leaving a lengthy birdie putt 5 feet short on the 14th hole, he described the greens to playing competitor Keegan Bradley as “sticky.” Compensating for the speed, Woods rammed his birdie effort past the fifth hole and missed the 4-foot comebacker for par, resulting in his lone three-putt on the round. His frustration peaked at the par-3 seventh hole when he left his birdie putt short in the heart of the hole. He let an expletive slip and then under his breath said, “How many am I going to (expletive) leave short?”
It was that type of day. After the round, he blamed his inability to figure out the grain. Woods took 30 putts for the round and his strokes gained-putting statistic of -1.507 added context to a round where the shortstick let him down.
If there was a bright spot, Woods drove the ball well with his driver. His misses off the tee tended to be to the left: a pull-hooked 2-iron on 16 and a 3-wood on the second hole when he aimed for a baby cut and hit the dreaded double cross. Woods’ ugliest shot of the day followed, a topped recovery from a precarious lie near a pine tree that advanced a mere 15 yards. He was still away and struggled to a double bogey.
Woods bounced back with a nice up-and-down from the sand for birdie at the par-5 third hole. Among the gallery surrounding the green to clap for his second of three birdies on the day was Tiger’s mother, Kultida Woods. Overall, Woods' short game, which showed off-season rust in his previous start at Torrey Pines, looked much tidier. His assessment that it was one of those days when he couldn’t put it together was spot-on.
“I either hit it good and missed the putt, and then scrape around and make the putt,” he said.
But if Woods was looking for encouragement after his round of 71, there was this: he shot a stroke better than he did 22 years ago when he made his PGA Tour debut as a gangly 16-year-old at the 1992 Nissan Los Angeles Open. Woods wasn’t aware of the anniversary, but his memories of that day at Riviera Country Club came flooding back.
“I remember hitting 3-wood off the first tee, and I remember stepping up to it, like just really no big deal, simple little 3-wood down there and going to have some kind of flip 4-iron or 5-iron in there,” Woods said. “I took the club back; I’ll never forget how heavy the club felt all of a sudden. Knocked it down there – right in the middle of the fairway, actually – and then hit it on the green and two-putted, birdie.”
That wasn’t all that Woods remembered from his debut round of 72.
“Actually the next hole was probably the best hole,” he said. “I sniped it against the fence over there and played some kind of hook to the front part of the green and made par. That I do remember.”
Woods shot 72-75 and missed the cut and chalked it up as a learning experience.
“I was 17 back of Davis (Love III, who eventually lost in a playoff to Fred Couples), I believe it was, after two days,” Woods said. “I thought, ‘I have a long way to go before I can even think about playing out here.’ ”
And after one round at the Honda Classic, he has a long way to go toward winning his 80th Tour title. A hot putter could do the trick.