Golf

Tiger misses chances in first round

PGA Tiger Woods and Fred Couples
Tiger Woods shot 71, Fred Couples 70. 'He kicked my ass,' Woods joked.
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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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DUBLIN, Ohio

Tiger Woods’ Drive for Five, as it’s been christened, sputtered on Thursday at the Memorial tournament.

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It’s not that Woods — the defending champion at Muirfield Village — won’t win his fifth tournament of the year here. It’s that the world No. 1 has made it unnecessarily difficult with a wasteful opening round.

His 1-under-par 71 left him tied for 27th; not the end of the world given he’ll get the easier scoring conditions on Friday morning, but Woods knows that some 71s are great because they should’ve been 75s and that this one should’ve been about 68.

“Worst score I could’ve shot,” Woods — who fell six shots behind leader Charl Schwartzel — bemoaned afterward.

Fred Couples, who played with Woods and Keegan Bradley, said Woods should’ve shot 3-under par at the very least.

“He didn’t putt very well, for him,” said Couples.

Not that Couples was too unhappy because, at 53, he managed to beat Woods by a shot.

“He kicked my ass,” Woods joked.

Couples, who’s focused on his duties as Presidents Cup captain — the matches will be played here at Muirfield Village in October — hasn’t played much golf this year.

And he couldn’t practice for this featured pairing because he had to go to the White House on Wednesday night, so he was worried he’d embarrass himself.

“I was not expecting 70, I’m not going to lie to anyone, but I’m thrilled,” he said. Though he may seem laid-back and to not have a care in the world, there’s fight — and pride — in the old silver fox.

He revealed that he asked to go against Tiger.

“I won’t lie to you. I asked to see if I could get paired,” he said. “Probably might be my last time playing with Tiger.”

There was some nostalgia to his desire, but he also wanted to test himself.

“I can shoot free throws with Michael Jordan, who is a friend, but I can’t do anything else with him,” Couples said.

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“I can play golf with him. That’s not the same.

“In golf, (Woods is) our best player, and I play on the Champions tour, so I rarely get to see him.

“Tiger is Tiger.”

He was less Tiger than he’s been this year on this particular muggy Thursday.

Off the tee, he was impressive, hitting 11 fairways, including all seven on his back nine.

But the irons were spotty — as was the short game — and the real story of the day is that he needed 30 putts to get around.

“I didn’t capitalize on a few opportunities I had,” he said. “Short irons, I didn’t hit them close enough. All in all, it was a pretty high score.”

Woods said he thought he hit “good putts” but had problems reading the greens.

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“The one on 18 (for par), I thought it was going to go left at the end and ended up going right. That was not very good,” he said.

Woods started the day by finding a fairway bunker on the first, forcing him to lay up short of the green. It was no easy thing to play to the back left pin, but Woods showed off his excellent new pitching game, hitting a high soft shot from about 30 yards that landed and grabbed, allowing him to save par.

The warning signs, though, came on the third hole, when he came up short from just 105 yards.

Steve Williams used to marvel at the fact that the harder the short-game shot, the better Woods was but that the reverse was true, too. He made the simple ones hard.

And he did it again on that third hole, muffing a straightforward uphill chip and missing an 8-footer for par.

The fifth, a par 5, was playing barely 500 yards on Thursday. The hole was begging to be birdied, but Woods missed the fairway and had to settle for par.

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Woods made bogey on the 12th, but that par-3 gives everyone fits, especially Rory McIlroy, who again made double bogey there on his way to 78.

The hole that stung Woods, however, was the par-5 15th.

A good drive and he’s staring at a birdie.

But Woods laid up, then hit a wedge long. From there, he tried a flop but left himself 23 feet for par and in the end needed to make a 5-1/2 footer to save bogey.

He did bounce back to birdie the difficult 17th, but gave that back when he missed the 18th green and couldn’t get up and down.

He was at least in a good mood afterward. After talking about Couples “kicking his ass,” I told him that 14-year-old Chinese phenom Guan Tianlang was also — at the time — 2 under.

Woods laughed.

And I think he meant it.

“Perfect,” he said, shaking his head, “Perfect.”
 

Tagged: Tiger Woods, Fred Couples

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