PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland — Tiger Woods did not try to mask the physical issues that plagued him during the first round of The Open at Royal Portrush on Thursday, giving a grim assessment of a situation that is appearing to be more the norm these days than at any time since he returned to competitive golf last year.
Woods shot 78, his highest opening score in 21 Opens and the worst since a third-round 81 in 2002 at Muirfield. The latter, in part, was the result of a horrific weather situation that blew away the field. It was also tied for his third-worst round in any major, the 81 at Muirfield and an 80 at the 2015 U.S. Open his two highest scores.
While the weather was far from ideal on Thursday, there were still 42 players under par, with J.B. Holmes leading following a 66.
“I’m just not moving as well as I’d like,” said Woods, who had spinal fusion surgery in April of 2017. “And unfortunately, you’ve got to be able to move, and especially under these conditions, shape the golf ball. And I didn’t do it. I didn’t shape the golf ball at all. Everything was left to right. And wasn’t hitting it very solidly.”
When asked how disconcerting that was, Woods said: “Just the way it is. Father Time and some procedures I’ve had over the time. Just the way it’s going to be. As I said, one of the reasons why I’m playing less tournaments this year is that I can hopefully prolong my career, and be out here for a little bit longer.”
Woods, 43, is playing just his 10th tournament of 2019, the highlight his stirring victory at the Masters, his 15th major title and 81st PGA Tour victory.
But this is just his fourth tournament since the Masters, and he’s twice taken month-long breaks before competing again. He missed the cut at the PGA Championship and appears on his way to playing just 36 holes here as well. Woods has now played just 11 competitive rounds since the Masters.
Whether he plays next week’s WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational has yet to be decided, according to Woods’ agent, Mark Steinberg — although that commitment is due Friday.
Judging by his movements Thursday, next week could be a long shot, with the FedEx Cup playoffs providing three straight weeks of tournaments in August.
Woods joked that he’s much more sore when he is at home playing soccer or other games with his kids.
“But playing at this elite level is a completely different deal,” he said. “You’ve got to be spot on. These guys are too good, there are too many guys that are playing well and I’m just not one of them.”
A poor warm-up preceded an opening tee shot in the rough for Woods, who seemingly makes a habit of getting off to poor starts. He made a great par at the first after finding a greenside bunker, but saw his round unravel with a three-putt bogey at the relatively short par-4 fifth, followed by a double bogey at the par-3 sixth and then another bogey at the par-5 seventh. After another bogey at the ninth, Woods shot 41 over the first nine holes.
His first and only birdie didn’t come until the 15th hole, and Woods raised his arms in mock celebration. He ended with a bogey at the 18th. For the day, Woods hit just 8 of 14 fairways and 10 of 18 greens. He took 32 putts.
Woods could probably use some warm weather — he struggled in cool conditions at Bethpage and Pebble Beach and it is again chilly here in the United Kingdom. Even so, he said, getting into the proper condition to play high-level golf is getting more difficult. He said “I’ll be there” for his 5:09 a.m. (10:09 a.m. local) tee time on Friday.
“I’m not 24 anymore,” he said. “Life changes, life moves on. And I can’t devote, as I’ve told you many times, I can’t devote the hours to practice like I used to. Standing on the range, hitting balls for four or five hours, go play 36, come back, run 4 or 5 miles and then go to the gym. Those days are gone.
“I have to be realistic about my expectations and hopefully peaking at the right time. I peaked at Augusta well. And hopefully I can peak a few more times this year.”
Woods said he was on his way to get treatment from a physical trainer, standard before and after every round he plays. Aside from that?
“That’s about all I can do,” he said. “And hopefully the body responds. That’s just the nature of the procedure that I had. I’m going to have days like this, and got to fight through it. And I fought through it. Unfortunately I did not post a very good score.”
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