Tiger Woods hit his opening drive to the center of the first fairway, spun a short iron to 18 feet and just missed his birdie putt, tapping in for an easy par.
The rest of his day was an up-and-down scramble punctuated by an ugly double bogey.
Unable to take advantage of a relatively tame Winged Foot, Woods had a string of three straight mid-round birdies but dumped a pitch shot on No. 18 to conclude a 3-over 73 Thursday in the opening round of the U.S. Open.
Woods finished eight shots behind playing partner Justin Thomas, who’s 17 years younger and held the early lead after shooting 65.
“Well, it was a bit of ebb and flow to the round today,” Woods said. “I did not finish off the round like I needed to.”
Woods, the reigning Masters champion, arrived at the U.S. Open after missing the FedEx Cup playoffs and tying for 37th at the PGA Championship. The 44-year-old with the cranky back hadn’t played a competitive round in three weeks but got off to a solid start with three straight pars on a rare day of prime scoring conditions at Winged Foot.
Woods ran into trouble when his tee shot ran through the fairway on the dogleg par-4 fourth and he couldn’t get up and down from in front of the green. He just missed the fairway on the par-4 fifth and an awkward lie in the greenside bunker led to another bogey.
Woods had his first birdie by spinning a short iron to six feet and making the putt on the short par-4 sixth. He gave it back two holes later when another tee shot just missed the fairway and settled deep in the mangled Winged Foot rough.
“Beginning part of the round, it seemed like things weren’t going my way,” Woods said. “Good tee shots … ended up in the rough in bad spots.”
Luck and momentum appeared to be on his side when he rolled in a 31-foot birdie putt over one of the many severe slopes on Winged Foot’s tricky greens at No. 9. That kicked off a stretch of three straight birdies, putting Woods at 1-under and in good position at a course where he’s historically struggled.
The momentum was short-lived in Winged Foot’s long rough.
A shot that didn’t fade enough led to bogey on the long par-3 13th and one that faded too much caused another on the next hole. Another long putt dropped for birdie on the difficult 16th, but he gave it right back on the equally tough par-4 17th.
Still in decent shape at 1 over, Woods walked off No. 18 with a sour taste for his round after dumping a tight-lied pitch shot into the severe front slope of the par 4 and missing a nine-foot bogey putt.
“I tried to stay as patient as possible and unfortunately just did not finish off my round the way I needed to,” he said.
Woods made five birdies but hit just six of 14 fairways and nine greens in regulation. He’s now 21 over par in his last seven competitive rounds at Winged Foot and has a huge hill to climb for a 16th major title on a course that’s sure to get tougher through the weekend.
“We have a long way to go,” Woods said. “This is a long marathon of a tournament. There’s a lot of different things that can go on.”
Woods has some work to do in Friday’s second round if he’s going to continue on in this tournament, much less make a run at the leaders.
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