Golf

Bogey-filled day puts Tiger far back

Rough start
Tiger Woods had problems with his short game Thursday in the Greenbrier Classic.
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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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WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va.

Win, win, tied-second, win, win, win, win, win, win.

These were Tiger Woods' finishes in tournaments from the Bridgestone Invitational in August 2007 until Bay Hill in March 2008.

It was an astonishing stretch — his former caddie Steve Williams still thinks of those months as Tiger’s peak — that culminated, later in 2008, with Woods’ greatest triumph, the US Open at Torrey Pines on one good leg.

Certainly, it’s true that other golfers win just as impressively as Woods, but what separated him at his best was that he, and only he, brought it week in, week out.

If he was in the field, he was the favorite. And if he didn’t win, he wouldn’t be far away.

Now, at 36 and still feeling his way back to what he once was, Woods turns in days like he did Thursday at the Greenbrier Classic.

It wasn’t a complete disaster, but it might have felt that way.

Woods, who shot a 1-over-par 71 on the friendly Old White Course, played as if he was a little hungover — not from alcohol but from the satisfaction of having stirringly won his own tournament, the AT&T National, on Sunday.

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It was his PGA Tour-leading third win of the season, and it might just be that Woods is looking ahead to Royal Lytham and the British Open in two weeks.

Woods got it to 2 under par early on a pleasantly warm West Virginia morning. But mistakes not only stalled him, they got him moving in the wrong direction.

The Old White might not be anyone’s idea of a brute, but bad shots are still penalized, as Woods discovered on the par-5 17th. His drive found the water on the right side. He finished the hole by missing a 2-foot tap-in for bogey.

“It was a simple little tap-in putt, and I blocked it,” he said with a shrug.

He had double-bogeyed one of only two par-5s on the course.

The front side — the second nine Woods played Thursday — is full of par-4s that leave short irons in. Woods made two birdies — a 3-footer and a 4-footer — but a sloppy short game cost him two shots.

It’s true that he was five shots back after the opening round last week, but that was on a Congressional Country Club course set up like a US Open.

Woods finished that round in a tie for 30th, knowing there was a good chance the leaders would come back to the field. Be sure, the Greenbrier Classic isn’t going be play like a US Open.

And even if early leader Vijay Singh — whose 63 gave him an eight-shot lead over Woods — does falter, by mid-Thursday afternoon there were 90-odd players ahead of Woods.

Woods knew where he stood.

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“The golf course is definitely a course you could tear apart today,” he said. “The greens are firm but slow. And drive the ball in the fairway, and you're going to have a bunch of holes where it's going to be 9-iron on down.

“The ball is flying, it's warm, we're slightly at altitude. So definitely a golf course where I think most of the guys are going to be shooting 2, 3 under par or better.”

Woods blamed his putter — he took 31 strokes on the greens — for most of his problems.

“My last three tournaments, the greens were awfully quick and they have a lot of swing at the end because of how fast they are,” he said.

“I missed literally every single putt high today. I never hit one that missed on the low side; (each) one's missing high. I had too much break, and it didn't work out.”

He also acknowledged he played “two terrible chips” that led to needless bogeys.

“I just didn't quite have my game,” he said. “So I struggled with it a little bit.”

Woods also conceded that it didn’t help to not have played a practice round.

He arrived on Tuesday, held a news conference and then didn’t play a practice round because storms rolled in.

Woods — who hasn’t won on a course he has not seen before in six years — saw the course for the first time Wednesday during the pro-am.

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“I know it a lot better now,” he said with a wry grin. “But, you know, it takes a little bit of time, especially under tournament conditions. Normally you get a Tuesday 9-holer in there. That allows me to get the feel for how the golf course is playing, and Wednesday is a little bit easier.

“I had to take Wednesday a little bit more seriously than I normally do because I hadn't played the golf course. And then it was foggy out, so I didn't see the first couple holes. So I wish I could have got Tuesday in, but it didn't happen.”

Of all the metrics that are rolled out in the argument about whether Woods is “back,” this one gets overlooked:

The man who used to win week in, week out, hasn’t posted consecutive top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour since the scandal.

Tagged: Tiger Woods

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