January 29, 2015
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The focus on Tiger Woods at the Phoenix Open shifted Thursday from a chipped tooth to his chipping.
Woods struggled mightily with his short game again, and it didn't help that he only hit three greens in regulation on the front nine. He made three bogeys and a double bogey and made the turn in 4-over 39.
In his 2015 debut, Woods already was 10 shots behind early leader Keegan Bradley, who had a 6-under 65.
Woods is playing for only the second time since he missed the cut at the PGA Championship last August. He brought in a new swing consultant during his time off to heal from back injuries, and expectations were lower than usual for a player who has won 79 times on the PGA Tour.
In his first trip to the Waste Management Phoenix Open since 2001, playing before the most energetic crowd at an American golf tournament since the PGA Championship, Woods created more groans than cheers — particularly off the green.
Just over a week ago, Woods was photographed in Italy at a World Cup ski race with a missing tooth from what he said was a camera inadvertently hitting him in the mouth. The chipped and crack teeth were easy to replace. His chipping might be a different story. Woods also duffed a number of chips at the Hero World Challenge in December at Isleworth, the course he knows better than any other in the world.
Not much changed two months later.
Woods didn't hit his chip with a mid-iron hard enough from short of the first green and left it 10 feet short. He sent a routine chip on the second hole some 15 feet by the cup. And on the next hole, the par-5 third hole, Woods was tentative with a flop shot out of the rough and didn't reach the green. Another chip on the par-3 fourth didn't reach the green, and he three-putted from 20 feet on the fringe.
The worst of it was at No. 9. His ball was just outside a bunker, and Woods had to play an exaggerated hook with his feet in the sand, and he lost his balance. At least his back looked to be healthy. The ball came up short of the green, and Woods bladed a chip that ran over the back of the green.
Instead of chipping to a close pin, he opted to putt up the slope. It was the second time on the front nine that Woods used a putter instead of chipping. It wasn't a bad option, but using a putter once was a rare option for Woods.
The crowd was enormous, as expected, with Woods playing the rowdiest event on the PGA Tour for the first time in 14 years. Bradley didn't get much attention as he motored around TPC Scottsdale with seven birdies for the lead among the early starters.
"I hit a shot in on my last hole to about 10 feet, and it was a pretty good shot, and I didn't get many claps," Bradley said.
He turned to his caddie and asked if it was over the green, or well short. He couldn't figure out why there was hardly any applause.
"We get up there — perfect shot. And Tiger was on the second green. No one was watching me," he said. "It's just amazing to see the draw that Tiger has."
Zach Johnson was among four players at 66, while Angel Cabrera and Justin Leonard were in the group at 67.
Phil Mickelson, a three-time winner at the Phoenix Open, also got off to a bad start. He put two balls in the water on the par-5 15th and made double bogey, and he was 3 over through his opening seven holes. But he drove to the front of the green on the short par-4 17th and converted that into a birdie, and he picked up four more birdies to salvage a respectable 69.
"I felt like I was a little anxious starting the round, because I felt like my game was really where I wanted it to be," Mickelson said. "I came out and I just made a bunch of dumb mistakes. ... I ended up playing the front nine really solid with 3 under and hit a lot of good shots on some holes I made pars, as well, and feel much better."