SAN DIEGO — Tiger Woods is trying to avoid something he has never done in all his years playing at Torrey Pines.
He has never left the tournament on a Friday.
Woods bailed out on Thursday the last time he played the Farmers Insurance Open in 2015 when he stopped after 11 holes because of tightness in his back. The year before that, he was forced out on a Saturday when he missed the 54-hole cut.
He has won six times on a Sunday, twice on a Monday.
In his return to the PGA Tour after a 17-month layoff to heal from two back surgeries, the objective now is simply to make the cut. Woods didn’t make it easy on himself when he played a six-hole stretch in 6-over par on the back nine of the opening round Thursday and shot a 4-over 76.
He goes into the second round five shots outside the cut line.
If he’s sent packing on Friday, it will be the eighth time in his last 15 starts against a full field that Woods failed to make the cut. This from a guy who once went seven years without missing a cut.
Was it a surprise?
Not really, because not even Woods knew what to expect after having been gone from the tour for so long. More than his fighting his swing - it took him nine holes before he hit what could be considered a good short iron into the green - it was getting used to tournament golf.
That could be expected.
“So much is different,” he said. “Playing in slower conditions. It’s much softer than what we have at home. It’s much cooler than what we have at home. It’s just different. I’m trying to get used to a little bit of this, and I was fighting throughout the day, and I just didn’t quite get it done after the middle part of that back nine.”
And that’s where it all fell apart.
He made his first birdie in 523 days - a number skewed by the fact it had been 523 days since his last PGA Tour appearance - on the 10th hole when he hit a wedge from the first cut of rough into 10 feet. He followed that with a tee shot into 10 feet for another birdie. That put him at 1 under.
“And it went the other way,” he said.
It was a little bit of everything, and it all happened so fast, even in the midst of what Woods referred to as a lot of waiting around.
No. 12: A bad tee shot to the right landed in rough so wet and thick that he used a fairway metal to chop down and gouge out the shot. He advanced it only 120 yards, still in the rough, hacked the next one out to 15 feet and missed the par putt.
No. 13: A tee shot into the rough, and an iron that stayed in the rough, so deep that Woods had to lift the ball to identify it. He did extremely well to hammer that out with a wedge onto the green some 50 feet away. Instead of getting out of there with par, he left his first putt 10 feet short and three-putted for bogey.
No. 14: A 3-wood off the tee that found the left rough and kept him from reaching the green. His pitch from short grass in front of the green came up 18 feet short, and the par putt spun out of the lip.
No. 15: A snap-hook over the gallery and down into a ravine. Woods started to go down to look for it until he realized even if he found it, he would have no shot. So he took a penalty drop, hooked an iron through the trees into more rough, hit wedge to 25 feet and two-putted for double bogey.
No. 17: His 3-wood drifted just enough to the right to find more deep rough. He gouged another fairway metal out into the front bunker, blasted out nicely to 6 feet and missed the par putt.
At least he made a birdie on the 18th which brought out a smile, perhaps because a long, tough day was finally over.
“I was fighting out there all day,” Woods said. “Didn’t really hit it that good. Greens were a little tough out there with some of the putts and I had a round which I let slip away in the middle part of the back nine and unfortunately didn’t hit very good shots.”
It might have been worse had he not made four tough par saves on the front nine, and if Jason Day and Dustin Johnson played better. Johnson birdied the 18th for a 72. Day missed four putts from the 4-foot range and shot 73.
Day pleaded to be patient with Woods.
“Having 17 months off is a very, very long time,” Day said. “I think everyone was kind of anticipating what the comeback would look like. But once again, I said it over the last couple days, we can’t just break down everything he did today because it’s been 17 months. Let him go a year, let him play and go from there. … We can’t panic too much at the start of the year.”
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