Tiger digs himself a hole
Cog Hill, where he’s won five times, is one of Tiger Woods’ favorite courses.
But on Thursday it must’ve felt more like Hamburger Hill to him as he bled his way to a two-over-par round of 73, nine shots off Matt Kuchar’s lead after the first day of the BMW Championship.
“I just didn’t have much today,” the world No. 1 said forlornly.
He needs to find more, and fast, if he’s to climb into the top five at the BMW Championship, which is the finish he needs just to move on to the FedEX Cup finale, The Tour Championship, to be played in two weeks in Atlanta.
Woods, as he often does when darkness descends upon him, chose to dash over to the sunny side of the street.
Despite not being able to hit it very straight, chip very well, get up-and-down out of a bunker more than once in four tries or make many putts, he noted that a top-five position was still very much within reach.
“As of right now I’m only five shots back (from a top five),” he said.
“That’s not bad. Guys aren’t going low at this place because the greens aren’t good enough to go low.”
Kuchar didn’t seem to have much trouble on them.
The lanky Southerner, who leads the FedEx Cup race after winning at The Barclays two weeks ago, didn’t do his Player of the Year campaign any harm with a 64, which included a bogey.
“Wow, I didn’t see any 64s out there,” said Jason Day.
Kuchar, who has laryngitis and couldn’t speak much about his round afterward, won the U.S. Amateur at Cog Hill in 1997 and, he noted, had “good memories of this place.”
Neither was the demanding layout, re-designed by the so-called U.S. Open Doctor, Rees Jones, too tough for Ryan Moore, who shot 65 while wearing an old-fashioned tie, or Ian Poulter, an altogether different kind of clothes horse, who turned in a 66.
“Some days you get putts that are easy to read from 10 feet and some days you get 5-footers that have three breaks in them somehow,” said Moore.
“It’s weird. But I just kind of had really straightforward putts.”
But Cog Hill’s greens, scarred from a long, hot summer, weren’t for everyone.
After his round, Mickelson waxed poetic about his Wednesday practice round at nearby Butler National, which hosted a PGA Tour event until its insistence in not allowing women on the grounds became a problem.
“That’s in great shape,” he said of Butler, “The greens there were just pristine.”
When asked what he thought of Cog Hill, Mickelson replied that it was “interesting.”
Doesn’t take much imagination to read between those lines.
And just in case anyone was left in doubt, Mickelson erased it when he was asked whether he found it difficult to play well on a course for which he had no affinity.
“Yes,” he said.
Woods, on the other hand, loves the place but on Thursday it didn’t love him back.
After hitting a series of impressive shots on the driving range under the watchful eye of swing coach Sean Foley, he proceeded to flare a 3-wood into the right rough off the first tee.
“That was bad commitment on my part,” he said.
His third shot, from the greenside bunker, didn’t find the putting surface and the error was compounded when his chip came up 4 feet short and he missed the bogey putt.
Although he hit only five fairways and 10 greens, Woods seemed less bothered by his swing miscues than by his putting.
“I had a hard time hitting the putts hard enough; I really did,” he said.
“I putt a lot on memory, obviously, and it’s hard to make myself hit the putts this hard when I know how they used to putt.”
He brought himself to hit a long birdie try on the par-3 6th hard, and watched it sail 7 feet past the hole, leading to a bogey.
But what really seemed to take the wind out of his sails was the par-5 ninth. Woods hit his finest drive of the day, splitting the fairway on the 615-yard hole, and had 240 yards to the front of the green.
He carried his 5-wood too far but was left with the most routine of chips, from about 15 feet. Instead, the chip was chunky and he missed the resulting 4-foot putt.
Woods rarely betrays defeat on a golf course, but he put his hands on his knees and bowed his head for several seconds when the putt lipped out.
He made three birdies on the back, but offset them with two bogeys, including a careless one on the last.
Afterward he blamed his difficulties on the fact that he was getting stuck in between the old Hank Haney swing and the new Foley swing.
“Today, probably a handful of times I got caught in between the two takeaways of my old swing and the new swing,” he said.
“I’ve got to make a commitment to what I’m doing.
“I just started at the PGA (Championship), and I think I’ve done a pretty good job of implementing it and meanwhile playing in some big events. It’s not easy. It’s hard.”
And some days harder than others.