LA JOLLA, CALIFORNIA | Late Wednesday, knowing he had a 10:40 a.m. Thursday tee time with Tiger Woods at the Farmers Insurance Open and having been asked almost constantly about what he expected to see, Patrick Reed fired a text to Woods.
“I said, hey, I expect you to wow me (Thursday),” said Reed, whose relationship with Woods blossomed when the 14-time major champion mentored him in the 2016 Ryder Cup.
Social graces being what they are, Reed declined to say how Woods answered his text, admitting only that some of their exchanges tend toward the salty side.
There were times Thursday when Woods did wow Reed, hitting a handful of shots during his opening round 72 that impressed his playing companion and served to reinforce the notion that this comeback may be more productive than Woods’ recent false starts.
In terms of numbers, Woods found himself tied for 84th after the first round and will need to score at least as well on the newly muscular North Course Friday to play the weekend. He hit eight of 14 fairways and 12 greens, but Woods made nothing of any length in the first round, holing just 34 feet, 11 inches of putts.
In ways, it seemed as if nothing had changed at Torrey Pines, where Woods has won eight professional events. When he stepped to the first tee with the January chill burning off, the long par-4 was ringed by spectators for the length of its 450 yards.
Woods was nervous.
“I’m always nervous,” he said. “I care about what I do and it was fun to feel that competitive rush again and have a scorecard in my hand again and try to post a number.”
He pulled his tee shot into the left rough (“He just didn’t look comfortable on the first tee,” Reed said) and made an opening bogey. It wasn’t until Woods scalded a 308-yard cutting tee shot at the par-5 sixth that he seemed to fully fire at a shot. It led to the first of his three birdies, which came from a total distance of six feet.
“There were some things out there that were pretty cool to see. He hit a high, tight draw driver. He hit that low cut that went miles. Some of those cuts he hit off the tee today were insanely long. You’re thinking a cut isn’t supposed to go that far. He’s hitting a flat cut out there 30 past your driver, you’re like, all right. The putter just needs to wake up a little bit,” Reed said.
“I thought he looked pretty good especially for coming back to a place like this. It’s tough. And starting on the South Course, it doesn’t get any harder than that. I thought he looked solid and played pretty smart.”
If there was a true eye-opener for Reed, it was the 6-iron Woods hit to 8 inches at the par-3 16th, setting up his final birdie.
“I thought I hit a good shot in there and he hit the same club (6-iron) and it came out a completely different window. Mine came out a normal window and his came out about 30 feet higher than that,” Reed said.
“It was monstrous into the wind. He was able to penetrate it through the wind at that height and to be able to land it that soft and hit it a foot. … That thing came out like a pitching wedge. It went vertical.”
By his own strict grading protocol, Woods was not satisfied with his iron play on Thursday, pointing to how few good chances he gave himself to make birdies.
“I didn’t hit them very close, I didn’t give myself a lot of looks and it’s hard to make a lot of birdies when you’re not giving yourself any looks. I didn’t do that today,” Woods said.
More than anything, it was an encouraging start after so many months of disappointment and frustration.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) January 25, 2018
“He seemed excited. Being kind of in the zone and in the grind and being a competitor, he was probably jumping for joy inside. Just being out here and playing golf again with the guys, especially pain free, that’s huge,” Reed said.
“I hope he plays well tomorrow so we can see on the weekend. That’s where more adrenalin starts pumping and he gets going even more. Hopefully he doesn’t hit every shot to one foot. I’ve seen some highlights where he’s done that. He looked good. It’s baby steps.”