Tiger Woods shot an up-and-down 2-under 70 on Friday that puts him five back of leaders Tommy Fleetwood and Keegan Bradley after 18 holes of play at the 2019 Players Championship. Woods actually made six birdies on the day (including a thriller on the par-3 17th), but too many errors on his approach shots led to a spot outside the top 25 after Day 1 at TPC Sawgrass. Let’s take a look at his round.
Front nine (even-par 36): Woods started on the first tee and didn’t do much for the first nine holes. He parred both of the par 5s and couldn’t find a rhythm with his swing, even though he putted it pretty well. His lone bogey came at the long par-3 fourth hole where he pulled one to the left and had to pitch up way away from the pin because of a severe slope. It left him with a 44-foot putt for par, which he missed.
Back nine (2-under 34): This was the opposite of the front nine. Woods made just one par on his way to the 34, and even that was an adventure as he had to get out of the sand on the par-4 15th and two-putt for a gutsy four. The highlight of Woods’ back nine probably came at No. 17, the island green, where Woods hit his tee shot 118 yards on a hole where 115 yards is wet and 121 yards is in the cup. He drained the putt for a two but followed that with a messy bogey on No. 18 that included a missed 4-foot putt for par.
What went well: On a week where he sought a little help with his short game, Woods putted it beautifully both statistically and empirically. His stroke looked free, and he gained all of his strokes on Thursday on the greens. He made four putts over 13 feet and looked confident in the process. That’s a good sign, and I wonder how much of it has to do with not being on the tricky poa annua greens he saw on the west coast.
“I thought I putted well today,” Woods told Golf Channel. “It was about getting comfortable and letting the putts rip, and I was able to do that today.”
What went poorly: Tiger didn’t hit it very well, which hasn’t been true of him so far this season. I thought it was an early rust issue, but he hit a slice on the par-5 11th into the water that he probably didn’t even have when he won the U.S. Amateur here in 1994. He lost strokes to the field on approach shots, which is not something you can say very often of Tiger these days.
Stat of the day: Tiger lost two full strokes on the field on just two holes — Nos. 3 and 11. I already mentioned 11, but on the par-3 third, he had to chip his ball away from the pin on the par 3 after he hit it into a completely dead area to the left of the green. He couldn’t make a 44-footer, which resulted in his first bogey of the day.
Where he stands: Woods was T35 at the time he finished, but the leaderboard is crowded. A hot start on the easier back nine (where he’ll start) on Friday morning, and Woods will be in the middle of it going to the weekend.
What’s next: Tiger told Steve Sands of Golf Channel that his neck is fine, and it certainly looked that way. He employed the helicopter finish, and while there were a few times where he looked a little hung up on his move at the ball, he never looked to be in pain. His putting stroke looks so confident right now — as if he’s going to make everything inside of 20 feet that he even thinks about — and I expect something sizzling on Friday morning. Something in the 66-67 range to put his name in the top 10 going into Saturday.