FARMINGDALE, N.Y. >> The PGA Championship began poorly for Tiger Woods. Although he got masterful in the middle of the round, things then fell apart down the stretch.
Not making any of it more palatable, Woods was paired with defending champion Brooks Koepka, who shot a 63 today on a somewhat benign Bethpage Black. A nine-shot deficit after one round was not exactly what the galleries cheering his every move projected for Woods as he comes off his Masters victory, his 15th major championship.
Hardly what Woods expected, either, but when you don’t stay in the fairway off the tee and miss a bunch of makeable putts, a 72 is what you get.
“It wasn’t as clean as I’d like to have it, for sure,” Woods said of his 6 on the par-4 10th hole. “Didn’t get off to a very good start. It was a good drive and ended up in a bad spot, and I compounded the problem with trying to use the backboard behind the hole there and missing a putt I should have made.
“And then found my way back around, got it back under par for the day, and let a couple slip away with a couple bad putts and a couple mistakes at the end.”
More than a couple. Woods bogeyed Nos. 5, 7 and 8, never looking like the guy who finished so brilliantly at Augusta National last month.
“I didn’t take advantage of my opportunities there,” he said, reviewing all of his bad holes in near-perfect conditions. “I thought I hit a good drive at 1 — or sorry, 10 ended up in — I had no lie. On 17, I hit it up against the face and it plugs, and we get down there and there’s no sand but a lot of rocks (in the bunker). It was just bizarre.”
When his tee shot at the par-3 17th found the stone-filled bunker, it made an up-and-down a dicey proposition. Woods hit over the green, then faced a downhill chip that left him with an 8-foot putt for bogey. He missed that, too, never really hitting a good shot in making his second double bogey of the round. Woods shook his head as he walked off 17, knowing he needed a spree of birdies — or better.
He got those.
Quick birdies on Nos. 1 and 2 got the crowd going. His 300-yard drive on the par-5 4th left him at 210 yards and his approach put him 31 feet away.
When he drained that, the cheers echoed throughout the five public courses at Bethpage.
“I felt like I was getting back into the round,” he said. “I fought my way back and I had two double bogeys in through there and was still able to get it to under par for the day. Unfortunately, I had a couple three-putts there and hit a bad chip at 8 and left myself in a bad spot.”
He is not exactly in a good spot after the opening round. Woods, who skipped practice on Wednesday because he “felt a little bit sick,” said he was fine today. His game was not.
That, of course, could change. Woods wasn’t front and center in the picture at the Masters after the first round, though he certainly was in contention.
“We’ll see what the golf course offers up (Friday),” he said. “It changed quite a bit from when we played this morning to this afternoon. The greens got a lot faster. We’ll see how it dries out over the next few days. I don’t see them cutting the rough down, so it’s just going to place another premium on driving the ball.”
And putting better. And managing the game. All of which Woods must improve on to have any chance of catching up.