Golf

Tiger survives brutal first round

Robert Lusetich breaks down Round 1 at Congressional, where Bo Van Pelt leads.
Robert Lusetich breaks down Round 1 at Congressional, where Bo Van Pelt leads.
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Robert Lusetich

After more than 20 years of covering everything from election campaigns to the Olympic Games, Robert Lusetich turned his focus to writing about his first love: golf. He is author of Unplayable: An Inside Account of Tiger's Most Tumultuous Season. Follow him on Twitter.

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Bethesda, Md.

Rory McIlroy decimated Tiger Woods’ US Open scoring record last year at Congressional Country Club.

Woods — and the maligned Congressional — took their revenge on the field at the AT&T National on Thursday.

“It’s certainly, I think, a little retribution for what happened last year,” Woods said with a wry smile.

Woods, who favors courses that play fast and hard — demanding superior shot-making and where par is king — made it clear that, because he’s in the field, he isn’t in charge of setting up the course this week.

But be sure that, as tournament host, he’s made his suggestions to the PGA tour staff.

And, apparently, they’ve listened.

McIlroy shot 16-under par last year with soft greens, beating the 12-under par US Open record Woods established at Pebble Beach in 2000.

While McIlroy’s feat was certainly impressive, he won by eight strokes while Woods won at Pebble by 15.

Bo Van Pelt dealt with Thursday’s brutal course setup and the oppressive heat best, opening with a four-under-par 67, the only bogey-free round of the day.

“It’s all you want out there right now,” said Van Pelt, who holed his approach into the first hole for an eagle.

“Basically you could have a US Open here this week if you wanted it.”

Brandt Jobe, who shot a 1-under-par round of 70, was one of many who looked spent as they trudged off the course.

“I'm tired,” he said.

“Just the grind of the golf course. You just feel beat up when you get done.”

Unfortunately for Woods, he was one of the casualties.

“It was a pretty good grind out there,” said Woods of his 1-over-par round of 72.

“Not a lot of low scores.

“It’s very similar to what we played at Olympic (at the US Open, two weeks ago).

“It’s survival. The ball will bounce as high as it flies on some holes.”

Woods didn’t drive the ball badly, but he didn’t hit his irons close enough — not easy, it’s understood, given the firmness of the greens. And when he did have chances at birdies, he didn’t capitalize by making the putts.

HISTORY LESSON

Whether we root for or against him, we watch Tiger Woods. Jason Whitlock knows why.

“I just didn’t get a lot out of my round,” he said.

But what really cost him, especially on the closing nine, was — yet again — his short game.

As he’s done for much of this year — and as was painfully evident at the US Open — Woods is giving away shots around the greens.

Two relatively straightforward bunker shots on the incoming nine were hit so fat that on one of them, he didn’t even get his ball onto the putting surface.

What was more astonishing, though, was his explanation.

“There’s just a lot of sand in them,” he said of the bunkers.

“My 60 (degree wedge) is not built for this much sand, not designed for that.”

Who’d have thought that Tiger Woods would have so much in common with a Sunday morning hacker, who probably thinks the same thing about his sand wedge?

In truth, his short game’s been in decline for some time.

Even before the scandal, his estranged coach Hank Haney worried that Woods wasn’t spending enough time working on the short game.

It’s now getting beyond just an annoyance.

The flubs are costing him.

This season — in which he’s won twice — he’s still 97th in sand saves, converting at only 48 percent.

In contrast, in 2009, Woods was getting up-and-down out of greenside bunkers at a clip of 62 percent, which was third best on the tour.

The sand shot on the 15th on Thursday that left him on the fringe exposed another frailty.

Woods opted to chip, when he could’ve easily putted, but flubbed the most straightforward of plays.

As he’s done many times, he stabbed his wedge into the ground and barely got the ball onto the green. He made an eight-footer for bogey to avoid what would’ve been among the softest double bogeys of his career.

But, despite all of that, he’s still tied for 30th and, more importantly, only five shots off Van Pelt’s lead.

And he’s got the advantage of playing early on Friday morning, before the greens bake and the winds pick up.

“You can water the greens all you want in the morning, they’re going to obviously dry out as the day goes on,” Woods said.

“I don’t see how this course is going to play easier in the afternoon.”

Tagged: Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Bo Van Pelt

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