ANYONE EXPECTING A new and improved version of Tiger Woods saw much of the same old thing yesterday.
An early birdie to raise hopes. A sudden tumble. And he couldn’t make a putt.
In his first tournament in seven weeks, Woods went 13 holes between his only two birdies at the Frys.com Open and had a 2-over 73 that put him in danger of missing consecutive cuts for the first time in his career.
“That’s probably one of the worst putting rounds I’ve ever had,” Woods said. “I can’t putt the ball any worse than I did today.”
Texas Open winner Brendan Steele opened with a 4-under 67 on a cool day at CordeValle with a few bursts of showers. He was joined in the lead by Briny Baird, Garrett Willis and Matt Bettencourt.
Woods fell out of the top 50 in the world ranking this week for the first time in 15 years, and it showed. The best golf in his group came from UCLA sophomore Patrick Cantlay, the No. 1 amateur in the world, who opened with a 2-under 69.
Woods was tied for 86th, although he was still only one shot out of the top 70 and ties that advance to the weekend. It marked the sixth straight round in which he failed to break par, and another occasion of having to scroll far down the leaderboard to find him.
He had not played since missing the cut at the PGA Championship in August, finishing out of the top 100 for the first time in a major. Woods said the time off at least gave him time to practice, to nail down the major work in his swing change with Sean Foley, and to play 36 holes a day at home in Florida.
Being back on the PGA Tour was different, even if it looked the same.
There was nothing special about his game, although whatever he did right was derailed once he got on the greens. Woods missed three putts inside 6 feet, two of them for birdie. Even toward the end of his round, he froze when he saw a 4-foot par putt on the 16th hole take a 360-degree ride around the edge of the cup before falling.
“The rest of the game was not too bad,” Woods said. “I hit some bad shots, yes. But also, I hit some really good ones. And very pleased at the shots I was hitting most of the day. But I got nothing out of the round on the greens. And whatever momentum I could have gotten by hitting good shots … you know, I just missed putts.”
He missed a 6-foot birdie attempt at the par-5 ninth, but saved par with a 12-footer — the longest putt he made all day — on the next hole. That appeared to give him a lift, for he stuffed his tee shot on the par-3 11th to 4 feet.
The putt didn’t even touch the hole.
And then, Woods made a mess of the par-5 12th. From the left rough, the grass grabbed his club and pulled the shot toward the hazard. Woods never found the ball, had to return to the other side of a creek and lay up short of another hazard in front of the green. He had to work hard to two-putt from 35 feet for double bogey.
The last time Woods missed consecutive cuts on the PGA Tour was in 1994, when he was an 18-year-old amateur. In fact, he missed his first seven cuts as an amateur. On the PGA Tour, he has missed the 36-hole cut only seven times in his career.
“I need to put together a good round tomorrow and gradually piece my way back into the tournament,” Woods said.