Best of Tiger Woods first round back: drives, shots and Justin Thomas taunts
“Welcome back, Big Cat!”
At a little after 12:15 p.m. ET on Saturday, at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club in Orlando, Fla., during the first round of the PNC Championship, Tiger Woods hit his first shot in a competitive round since a car crash in late February left him, at one point, facing the possibility of right leg amputation. The 15-time major champion’s ball traveled about 300 yards and finished down the right side of the fairway. And a shout from a fan along the ropes pierced through the cheers.
Over the next five-plus hours, Woods and son Charlie took 62 shots in the parent-child event and are three strokes out of the lead heading into Sunday’s final round. While it may be difficult to glean much from a scramble — a “hit and giggle,” Woods called it, where the pressure is less — there were shots to note from Woods’ return. And shots to forget. Below is the best of everything from the day from Woods. And some of the worst.
Best shot (best iron shot, too)
It came on Woods’ second on the 529-yard, par-5 3rd — and came one shot after one of his worst (more on that in a sec). From 232 yards out, Woods stuffed an iron to 7 feet. Team Woods finished with a birdie.
“This was vintage Tiger Woods — 220 yards, long iron to a par-5, and this one almost went in,” analyst Brandel Chamblee said after the NBC broadcast. “Just had that look.”
In addition, Woods hit the green, from 257 yards out, with his second shot on the 558-yard, par-5 5th, and he was home in two, from 256 yards out, on the 585-yard, par-5 14th.
Best tee shot
It came on the 410-yard, par-4 11th and traveled around 300 yards. “That drive was pounded,” announcer Dan Hicks said on the NBC broadcast. Notably, Golf Channel’s Ryan Lavner tweeted that Woods was touching over 170 mph ball speed, and this appeared close to that. More on this drive in a minute, too.
There were two, and they came on the 387-yard, par-4 10th hole and the 410-yard, par-4 11th. After Team Woods had parred four holes in a row, Tiger dropped a 6-footer for birdie on the 10th, and another 6-footer for birdie on the 11th.
Of course, not every shot was sublime, nor could it have been expected to be so. But on Woods’ second tee shot, on the 410-yard, par-4 2nd, he pounded his ball well out to the right and was not used. Then, on the next hole, the 529-yard, par-5 3rd, Woods hit his tee shot well out to the left and into bushes. In all, these were Woods’ driving stats — 14 possible tee shots, four tee shots not hit, five fairways hit, five fairways missed.
Let’s give it to Charlie. After finishing up play on the 193-yard, par-3 12th, Tiger, Charlie and their playing partners, the son-father duo of pro Justin Thomas and dad Mike, played a putting contest from 60 feet out, according to Golf Digest’s Dan Rapaport. Only Tiger missed, and Charlie’s make gave us this:
Honorable mention best moment came after his best drive. Woods also outdrove Justin Thomas on 11, and NBC analyst Notah Begay reported that Woods did a double-check of his and Thomas’ ball — just to be sure.
Afterward, Woods was asked if any words were exchanged.
“I don’t think he needed to,” he said. “Just, yeah, he really didn’t need to say anything. I was just so embarrassed that he hit it past me that that was enough.”
How did Tiger Woods look?
Good. Better than perhaps Friday, when he played in the pro-am and skipped several shots on the back nine. But Woods’ limp became more noticeable as the day wore on, and on the 425-yard, par-4 16th, he grimaced after his tee shot.
“Ooh, Notah, you couldn’t help but see he had a little grimace on his face after he hit that shot and bent down to grab that tee,” analyst Peter Jacobsen said on the NBC broadcast. “I just don’t want him to try too hard and do too much.”
“I think there’s only one type of try in him,” Begay said.
The firsts of his return
First tee shot: About 300 yards down the right side of the fairway on the 1st hole.
First iron shot: From 127 out on the 1st, Woods hits it on the green, but short and 20 feet from the pin.
First putt: After taking Charlie’s approach shot on the 1st, Charlie misses the 5-footer for birdie, then dad drains it.
First shot around the green: While this is hard to see in a scramble, Tiger and Charlie both missed the green on the 363-yard, par-4 7th, and the elder Woods chipped to 2 feet. To note, and perhaps as expected as it was likely the shot practiced the most in his rehab, Woods was strong from 100 yards and in — on the 10th, 11th and 13th holes, he hit wedges to within 6 feet.
First birdie: First hole. In all, Team Woods made 10 birdies, eight pars and no bogies.
The last word
“It’s frustrating when I don’t hit the ball as far as I know that I can and the shots that I see don’t come off the way I want. I hit two good shots today — well, three, they came off exactly how I wanted to. By old numbers, but as I explained to you guys down in the Bahamas, I don’t have endurance. I haven’t played. This is, what, my fourth, fifth round the entire year. I don’t have any golf endurance.
“It’s tiring out there, so it was a slow day. But that’s something that I’m going to have to, if I want to compete out here at the Tour level, I’m going to have to get the endurance back and hit thousands upon thousands of golf balls. Just takes time.”