Tiger Woods is back – way back. Like, six shots back. After one round.
Is he too far back?
At right around the time the East Coast arrived at work Friday morning, getting ready for a Father’s Day weekend watching the three best players in the world compete for a major, the three best players in the world were getting their scorecards vandalized by a par 3 17th hole that can make a grown man cry.
Woods, already five shots off the lead held by Phil Mickelson, landed in the front-left bunker. Rory McIlroy tried a high hook and missed the green. Adam Scott did best of all, landing 40 feet short of the cup.
But these guys are good, as the saying goes. They know how to recover, right?
Woods missed the green with his bunker shot. McIlroy missed the green with his chip shot. Scott three-putted.
All three carded bogeys. All three finished their first round over par. Scott is at 2-over, McIlroy and Woods are both at 3-over.
The much ballyhooed threesome of the world’s top three turned out to be more pain than pleasure – especially considering a couple of the early round shots from the thick rough here at Merion Golf Club left Woods wincing away pain in his left arm. He said his arm bothered him on “a few shots.” Asked what he felt on those few shots, Woods conjured Clubber Lang and quipped, “Pain.”
In his last 12 majors, Woods has only eight rounds under par. And only four of his 78 victories have come when he’s entered the second round with a score over par. Woods said his round could “easily” have been under par if he’d made a few putts, and, well, he’ll have to make those putts if he’s going to get back to scratch.
The good news? Woods still has golf’s best mental game, and Merion will crush some spirits ahead of him. After the end of Round 1, only five players were under par – leader Mickelson (-3) and Luke Donald (-2) among them. The British-Open-like breeze here is giving everyone wind burn on this Friday, and the flagsticks without flags are not helping players figure out what their shots will do in flight.
“I think everyone thought that as soon as the course got wet it was going to play easy,” said Donald. “The scores certainly aren’t showing that. The tough holes are extremely tough.”
The 17th told the story on Friday, as former major winner Angel Cabrera found the left bunker and couldn’t get to the green with his second. Former major winner Zach Johnson came along in the next group and landed in the right bunker, needing to take a drop after an unplayable lie. By the time the marquee group arrived at the tee, there was a bottleneck on the 17th green that would make a Broad Street cabbie bang his fist on the steering wheel.
The wind even fooled with Woods on his short second shot out of the bunker. “I hit a good pitch,” he said, “and the wind killed it.”
They all had to write down 4s and then go to 18, which is already among the toughest holes in Open history.
But it’s not over for them at 17 on this chilly Friday. Woods, and his highly-ranked playing partners, will have to be back again Friday for Round 2.
Award-winning writer Eric Adelson is a feature writer for Yahoo! Sports. A graduate of Harvard University and Columbia University’s School of Journalism, Eric previously wrote for ESPN the Magazine and is the author of the book “The Sure Thing: The Making and Unmaking of Golf Phenom Michelle Wie.” This article is reprinted here with the written permission of Yahoo!.