PALM BEACH GARDENS, FLORIDA – The stat sheet didn’t look drastically different than his first six competitive rounds of 2018, but Tiger Woods offered several positive signs in his round of even-par 70 to begin the Honda Classic.
It’s a tough venue, particularly when the wind gusts as early in the day as it did Thursday. By 7:15 a.m., the crowd had gathered six-deep around the 10th tee at PGA National, where the morning’s marquee groups would soon commence their rounds. Shortly after, a man sat down to eat a cheeseburger, which promptly flew off the table before he could eat it. Even the birds were reluctant to battle the wind. At one point, Sergio Garcia had to shoo a flock of Egyptian geese off the third green so Justin Thomas could play his approach.
Woods handled the trying conditions with mastery in the early going. He birdied two of his first four holes to share the lead before short-siding himself in a bunker on No. 16, leading to a bogey. His biggest hiccup of the day arrived on the par-5 third, one of the few holes players expect to birdie. Woods short-sided himself into a bunker once again and then made a mess from there, carding a double-bogey 7. He got back to even par with a birdie on No. 4 and parred in.
“I played hard today,” Woods said. “It was difficult out there. I had to try and put the ball in the correct spots and there’s interesting putts out there for us. Definitely it was different, like playing a British Open. You get a shot on the green and see a big puff of sand.”
Although he only hit seven of 14 fairways, Woods benefited greatly from a conservative approach off the tee. He had two large misses with the driver – right on No. 6 and left on No. 12 – but generally managed his way around with solidly struck 3-woods and several irons. Five of his missed fairways were either in the intermediate cut or just a pace or two into the thick stuff. The same could be said for the 10 of 18 greens he hit in regulation; he often found himself putting from the fringe or in manageable situations.
He called it the best ballstriking day of his comeback.
“I felt like I hit the ball really well,” Woods said. “I had to hit a lot of knockdown shots. I had to work the golf ball both ways, and occasionally downwind, straight up in the air. I was able to do all that today, so that was very pleasing.”
To put his opening round into context, 54 players in the morning wave shot over par. Woods’ playing partners, Patton Kizzire and Brandt Snedeker, each shot 4-over 74 and combined for two birdies.
“I feel like I’m really not that far away,” Woods said. “I’m starting to really get a feel for scoring again and scoring in tournaments, and today was a day that I’m very proud of because I missed the ball in the correct spots.”