Ah, what a glorious way to kick off the Deutsche Bank Championship and stir up some excitement in the second leg of the FedExCup PLAYOFFS, heading into the long weekend (reminder: traditionally, this event runs from Friday-Monday due to Labor Day). Of course I’m referring to Tiger Woods, who cruised to a seven-under 64 in the first round on Friday to share the early lead with Jeff Overton.
It seemed like it was going to be a relatively quiet and laid-back morning. Tiger, who teed off the 10th hole, was playing pretty well. Nothing too crazy special, though. He rolled in a 12-footer on No. 11 and a 19-footer on the 13th for birdies (which was actually a good sign since he had a tough time with the greens last week, but so did everyone else).
Then, Woods kicked in an extra gear on the reachable-in-two par-5 18th. After hitting 3-wood off the tee, he only had six-iron into the new green, which was redone to make the hole more difficult. Unlike in the past, you can’t just airmail your second into the stands and have a reasonable chip and then a tap-in putt for birdie. It’s supposed to create more risk-reward, forcing players to lay-up or taking on the possibility of missing the green — which is more narrow and tough to hold with a long-iron and fairway woods — and having a very challenging shot around the green. Speaking of which, Jeff Overton was in what appeared to be an impossible position from behind the green, but hit a beautiful flop shot — which he called one of the “top five best chips of his life” — to a few inches.
Back to Tiger. He knocked his second shot to about 40 feet and rolled his lag putt to tap-in for his birdie, which sparked an incredible six-hole run.
“I hit the ball flush today, and I just had a hard time getting it to try and figure out the wind, because if I hit it flush, it goes right through the wind,” said Woods in his post-round press conference after posting for his seven-under 64. “My ball doesn’t curve as much. So when I’m hitting it well, it’ll go right through it.
“It’s so tricky out there because I’d like to say I hit some bad shots, but I really didn’t. I hit a lot of good ones out there, and I just happened to hit it right through the wind, and hit some numbers that I didn’t even know I could hit just because I thought the wind would snag it a little bit more than it did.”
Tiger made it look easy and almost effortless. For the next five holes, he was nearly flawless. It was one of those stretches, where you’re reminded just how good he was/is/can be, and you shake your head like you can’t believe it, but thing is, you can because you’ve seen it many times before.
He dropped a 12-footer for birdie on No. 1 to get to four-under and take a share of the lead. Then he rolled in another 12-footer on No. 2 and a 15-footer on No. 3. He was initially going to hit 3-wood, but then the wind changed, so he pulled out his driver on on the drivable par-4 No. 4. He was trying to end up in the bunker that guards the front-left of the green, but he came up short in the rough. Luckily, he had a decent lie and pitched it to 5 feet. He made the putt to get to seven-under. Yep, five in a row.
Tiger’s wedge play has been his Achilles heel for most of the season, but it was much improved today. He had 154 yards into No. 5 and turned out to be the right number for his wedge. He nearly holed out from the fairway, but the ball stopped just a few rolls short of the hole. Easy kick-in birdie to get to eight-under and extend his streak to six in a row.
Could he make it to seven consecutive birdies? He finally missed a putt on No. 6. Ah, good run, though, and it gave the tournament some buzz early.
Unfortunately, Woods ended with a bogey on No. 9 to drop back to seven-under, but he didn’t even seem all that upset. He missed his approach to the back-right of the green, which is the dead zone — anything right gives you almost zero chance of getting up-and-down.
“I caught a lull, (Nick Watney) caught a gust,” Woods said, referring to his approach shot on the 9th. “It’s tough out there right now because it’s not only just blowing but it’s also changing directions. We had a hard time figuring out the directions, that’s one thing, but then you’ve got to figure out the intensity and hope it stays there and hope you guess it right and hit it right.”
Tiger chipped it to about ten feet, but couldn’t convert for par and posted his first bogey of the day.
“The lie wasn’t very good,” he explained. “It was sitting down just a touch, and it was across grain. So if I tried to hit just a regular pitch shot it was going to end upright where it was, and if I try and under cut it I’m coming against the grain. The grain was going left to right, so I’m going back up against it, and it wants to turn it over. So I went with more speed to try and get through it and just didn’t work out.”
Kind of a rally-killer to end the round, but Woods seemed pleased, overall. Like he said, he hit it “flush,” and probably left a shot or two out there.
Nice start. Now the question is, can he keep it going? It’s become a noticeable pattern, where he plays well in the first two rounds, but then fades away over the weekend. Since it’s a Monday finish, I’m not sure if that works in his favor or against because it’s technically a “three-day weekend,” right? OK, I’m obviously just messing around a bit, but the first-round lead means nothing (well, as the saying goes, you can “lose” it, but you can’t win it!).
We’ll see how it unfolds… to be honest, I’m more interested in the Ryder Cup captain’s picks and how guys like Dustin Johnson, Hunter Mahan and Brandt Snedeker play…
(AP Photo/Stew Milne)