NASSAU, Bahamas – Tiger Woods threw a clump of grass in the air on the eighth tee. He did so not once, not twice, but three times as he tried the to judge the breeze and calculate the club to hit and the distance to carry at the par 3. His concentration broke for a moment, something uncommon for him but it became a recurring problem as the round continued.
“I just didn’t quite commit to what I was doing and feeling,” he said.
Woods’ game showed some rust on Thursday. On the bright side, he made four birdies, but he carded five bogeys and a double bogey for a 3-over 75 at Albany Club in the opening round of the Hero World Challenge. Still, it was a victory of sorts just to be back in his element, playing competitive golf for the first time in 235 days since undergoing surgery to fuse his right subtalar joint after the Masters in April.
“You take it for granted, I guess, when you’re playing all the time,” he said. “OK, the wind, it’s coming up, move the ball back, you just kind of lean on it just a little bit, just flight it down a little bit, add a couple yards in. Instead of reacting to it, I was thinking about doing it. Then as I was thinking about it, should I do this or not, by then I’m pulling the trigger. I shouldn’t really pull the trigger. Hit a bad shot. I kept doing it time and time again. It was a lack of commitment to what I was doing and feeling. I’ve got to do a better job of it… Now I know mentally what I need to do better. I think that’s something that physically I knew I was going to be OK. Mentally, I was really rusty and made a lot of errors in the mind that normally I don’t make.”
Woods showed he still has plenty of power, ripping six drives of more than 300 yards. Woods noted he has less mobility after his injuries and as a result, his hips are going forward before the club is reaching the top and limiting how far the club goes back. It’s allowing him to create more power with a more efficient coil and a smoother transition. In all, he hit six of 13 fairways, 10 greens and took 30 putts, the best of which was a 48-foot bomb for birdie at No. 11.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) November 30, 2023
He hit one wild drive at No. 15 to the left and paid the price, trying to whack his second shot from a bush and barely advancing it. That led to a double bogey and he compacted the error with bogeys at No. 16 and 17. There was plenty of curiosity about how Woods would play among the competitors in the 20-man field.
“Looks like he could suit it up for the Dawgs on Saturday,” said Brian Harman of his beloved Georgia Bulldogs football team that is set to play in the SEC Championship game and a reference to Woods’ buff physique. “He is one heck of an athlete. I hope he feels good, I hope he’s moving good, I hope he’s pain free and can play a little bit more.”
After the round, Woods said on multiple occasions that he felt sore. “Everywhere,” he said, and when pushed to name where he felt it most, he added, “Leg, my back, my neck.”
Three more guaranteed days of Tiger is, as Fred Couples put it, Christmas comes early. On Friday, he’s paired with Rickie Fowler at 11:02 a.m. ET. Here are four more things to know from the first round of the Hero World Challenge.
Hero: Friday tee times
Harman's short game is sharp
On a warm, sunny day with a stiff, cooling breeze, Harman scrambled for par on 10 of 11 attempts. Asked to name the best one, he chose one by his playing competitor, Lucas Glover.
“It was incredible,” Harman said. “I joked with him, I said, ‘I thought I had the up-and-down of the day until you had that one.’ ”
As for Harman’s best, he said, “I boneheaded 11 and was long in three, had to get it up and down from kind of nowhere back behind that green on 11.”
The last time Harman played, at the RSM Classic, his short game let him down so he said he worked on it in the lead up to the Hero.
“I got out of position a few times, made some really nice up-and-downs,” he said. “Glad that I chipped a couple close.”
No rust for Finau
Tony Finau is making his first start since the Tour Championship in Atlanta back in August. The time off did him no harm. He birdied four of his last eight holes to shoot 5-under 67 and share the first-round lead with Harman
“I was more curious about how I was going to play more than anything else, so I was happy with my start,” said Finau, who caught a bad break when his 8-iron approach from 185 yards at 18 caromed off the top of the flagstick and came to rest off the green against the collar. He saved par.
How did Finau spend his off-season? Mostly with family but he did ramp up his training, including working out with the Utah Jazz, and said he’s gained some ball speed.
“That’s the one thing, that’s my focus this season,” he said. “I had some knee issues over the last couple years that I’ve been dealing with kind of just within my team, so that’s where my focus has been, just trying to be healthy and be stronger going into this season to make sure that I can swing the club the way I know I can. I definitely picked up some swing speed, so I think I was able to show that today and it was nice.”
Morikawa's back 'felt great'
The last time fans saw Collin Morikawa play, he won the Zozo Championship in Japan in October. But the last time we were supposed to see him play was in the Netflix live special from Las Vegas. However, Morikawa had to withdraw due to a back injury. He also had to pull out of the Memorial in May with back issues. But on Thursday, his back wasn’t an issue as he posted 3-under 69.
“It felt great actually,” he said. “I’m still thinking about the back obviously, just kind of swatting around, but swing-wise, everything felt great. Kind of same thing as a month ago, kind of know the reasons why I had bad shots and know the reasons I had good shots. Nice to make a handful of birdies out there and start Thursday.”
He added: “I’ve got to still watch it and make sure I do the proper stuff. It’s not just going to go away, it’s something I’ve got to maintain. It will be fine.”
Jordan's 'electric factory day'
Perhaps Jordan Spieth was attempting to teach his 2-year-old son Sammy the difference between circles and squares because he had a lot of those shapes on his scorecard. He made just four pars in posting 4-under 68.
“It was an electric factory out there, for sure. Some rusty putting, a couple toe balls and then a lot of really, really good stuff,” he said. “So all in all I would have probably signed for 4 under when I was warming up today, I just didn’t think I’d get there this way.”
Spieth had his lucky charm at Albany on the bag. Eric Leyendecker, a former high school teammate of Spieth’s, is subbing for Michael Greller. In 2017, Leyendecker toted for Spieth and he finished T-3, whereas Spieth hasn’t done better than 15th in three starts since with Greller. But according to Spieth, it was Greller who made the arrangements for Leyendecker to be on the bag this week.
“They struck a deal back in May and alerted me about a month and a half ago,” Spieth said. “Yeah, he has the highest finish that I’ve ever had here at Albany, so we’ll try and improve on that.”