Tiger shoots blah 71, Freddie and Guan impress again, Rory frustrated
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour
Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods starts slow in defense of title

Tiger Woods got schooled by 53-year-old Fred Couples, the oldest player in the 120-man field, in the first round of the Memorial Tournament.

“He kicked my ass,” Woods joked, following his opening one-under 71 on Thursday.

“I didn’t score very well compared to how I hit it,” said Woods, who is attempting to not only defend his title at Muirfield Village but also notch his sixth career victory at the Memorial. “I hit it pretty good. I just didn’t make anything today.”

In other words, he’s playing really well, so watch out because this was as bad as it gets. After all, he has won four times in seven starts already in 2013.

“I probably could have got a few more out of it,” said Tiger, who trails leader Charl Schwartzel by six strokes.

“It was probably the highest score I could have shot,” Woods said. “I played a lot better than my score indicates. Hopefully tomorrow, I can clean up and make a few more putts and get on a roll.”

Woods, who played with Fred Couples and Keegan Bradley, marveled at how long the senior-tour regular Couples still hits the ball. Freddie also has a bad back, mind you.

“It might be my last time playing with Tiger,” said Couples, who shot two-under 70. “So I was blessed to play with him. And my goal when I play with him always is to try to hit it solid and stay out of his way. And today was a good one.

“He’s the best player, and I play on the Champions Tour, so I rarely get to see him. Around Augusta, I always try to hit balls next to him.”

Before arriving in Ohio on Wednesday, Couples stopped by to meet President Barack Obama.

“It was pretty special,” Couples said. “Instead of flying here, I went into Dulles (airport in Washington, D.C.), and I got here late. Just hit balls and didn’t play the course. … I was not expecting 70. I’m not going to lie to anyone. But I’m thrilled.”

Meanwhile, the youngest player at Muirfield Village Golf Club, 14-year-old Guan Tianlang continues to impress and wow the crowd and media in the U.S. with his solid performances. Guan, playing in one of the last groups of the day, made two late bogeys to shoot an even-par 72.

“I think I played a pretty good round today,” he said. “It’s a pretty tough course. The greens got pretty bumpy in the afternoon.”

Guan, a native of Guanzhou, China, became the youngest to make the cut at the Masters in April. He also survived the 36-hole cut at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, but missed a few weeks ago at the Byron Nelson Championship.

“After the Masters and a couple of PGA Tour events, I guess I got more comfortable with it,” he said when asked how a teenager could avoid being overwhelmed. “It’s helped a lot the first couple of events I played.”

The eighth grader received a sponsor’s exemption from Jack Nicklaus and accepted. The tournament conflicted with the U.S. Open Sectional Qualifier that Guan was entered, so he withdrew, choosing to play at Jack’s event out of respect. (It’s a Chinese thing, I bet he felt it’d be rude to turn down an invitation from the golfing legend.)

Guan is optimistic of his chances to see weekend play for the third time on the PGA Tour this year.

“A couple under would be great,” he said of his goal in the second round. “I’m planning to make the cut if I hit a couple under.”

Then, there’s Rory McIlroy, whose rollercoaster season continues to baffle everyone, including the 24-year-old two-time major champion.

Rory shot the highest opening round of his career, six-over 78, which puts him currently at T107 and in danger of having a free weekend at the Memorial for the second consecutive year.

“The last four weeks have been the same,” said Rory, who missed the cut last week at the European Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. “I’ve missed a lot of short putts. It’s probably lack of confidence more than anything else. Those are the sort of putts that are important to keep the momentum of the round going. And they’re the putts that I’m not making.”

McIlroy got off to a rough start this season with a couple of early departures — whether it was a missed cut, losing in the first round of Match Play, or walking off in the middle of the round. Then, he bounced back with a backdoor T8 at Doral and a second in San Antonio. While he has two more top-10s at Quail Hollow and The Players, he never really actually threatened to make an actual run at the lead on Sunday in either of those events.

“I’m pretty frustrated. I’m trying not to let it get to me,” he said. “A few bad rounds of golf isn’t going to ruin anything. But I’d definitely like to start playing (well). I don’t really have any explanations for this.”

Well, if he missed the cut, at least he won’t have to deal with clowns all weekend!

(Photo via USA Today Sports/Allan Henry)