Published January 13, 2015
Oak Hill was there for the taking. Tiger Woods gave away too many chances.
Woods had everything he needed to start the final major championship of the year on a good note. The conditions were soft, still and ideal for scoring. He was one shot out of the lead Thursday morning in the PGA Championship when he made the turn, and there was nothing to suggest he would stray too far away.
Instead, he staggered off the course with double bogey on his last hole for a 1-over 71. That's not bad on a course where there typically is a premium on par. It just looked ordinary compared with the 28 rounds at par or better from other early starters in the opening round.
A wasted opportunity?
"A little bit," Woods said.
That was a phrase he mentioned three times when going over a round that featured four tough putts for par, but a round that should have been in red numbers.
Oddly enough, it was his best stretch of golf that stalled his round.
After making the turn at 2 under with a simple bunker save on the 18th hole — Woods had 11 putts on the back nine — he hit his approach 12 feet below the cup on No. 1. His shot into the par-4 second hole caught the side of a hill and settled 4 feet away as the largest crowd at Oak Hill roared. Woods drilled his tee shot on the 214-yard third hole to 10 feet left of the hole.
He missed every putt, and he missed them badly. The worst of them was at No. 2, when Woods said he should have taken more time except that his group was on the clock. It was a side hill putt, difficult even from 4 feet on the greens at Oak Hill. Woods was so tentative that the ball fell sharply to the right and never even touched the cup.
A momentum killer?
"A little bit," Woods said.
The real killer was the par-5 fourth hole, the only time Woods removed that Tiger head cover off his driver. After several rehearsals with his swing, the ball sailed well to the right, Woods simply picked up his tee. There was no emotion. It was almost as if he expected to miss the fairway. What he didn't count on was his next shot out of deep rough clipping a tree and spitting sideways into the fairway, costing him some 30 yards of roll.
From there, a poor 9-iron came up short and into the bunker, and he finally missed a par putt from 5 feet.
"Just one of those holes where I laid up and caught the tree," Woods said. "It was supposed to be way down there if it just happened to get through there, but it didn't. And I stuck a 9-iron into the ground."
Woods didn't have a single birdie chance on the last four holes — a chunked 3-iron off the tee at No. 7, a shot from the fairway into the bunker at No. 8. Even so, he was still at 1-under par and headed for an acceptable start.
That changed on his final hole. Woods hit a 3-wood to the first cut of rough on the right side, the worst place to miss with a tree blocking his view of the green on the dogleg right. He came up short and left, in rough so deep that he was trying to just land it on the green about 20 feet away. He didn't even reach the green, coming up short and into the bunker, and he blasted out to 12 feet and two-putted for double bogey.
For a guy who has struggled on the weekend at the majors, Woods didn't help himself in the opening round.
The good news? It was his lowest score in five rounds at Oak Hill. And it was only Thursday.
"I'm still right there," he said. "And we've got a long way to go."