Tiger Woods

USA Today

Eldrick’s Opening Round

All the talk coming into The Farmers Insurance Open was about Tiger Woods.

January 25, 2019 - 9:50 am

All the talk coming into The Farmers Insurance Open was about Tiger Woods. It was about how Tiger was feeling better than he had in a long time. How he’d been killing it in the weight room again. And how he’s back to free diving and spearfishing. Yes, free diving and spearfishing, and his back even felt strong enough to strap on a tank and dive with that, too.

On top of that, this is a tournament that he dominates and Torrey Pines was a course that he owned. You couldn’t talk about this tournament without people were running down all of his wins there, including the iconic US Open. 

So if you take all of that chatter about his fitness and his underwater adventures, and add it to his win at East Lake last year, and then his love of Torrey Pines and it didn’t feel like a matter of if Tiger would win this week, but when he would win and by how much.

And then yesterday happened.

Yesterday being the first round. And he shot a 70. 

A good, solid, meh. It’s the equivalent of a 3 yard run on first down. The kind of play that nobody cheers, because it’s neither really good nor really bad. It just is.

And that was Tiger’s first round. It just was. 5 birdies, 3 bogeys. Not great, not horrible. He didn’t shatter any course records and he didn’t shatter his spine either. Call it a draw.

Sure, you can look at the leaderboard after 18 holes and see that he was 8 shots back of Jon Rahm and declare that the sky is falling. That the young guns are completely destroying Tiger. That Rahm is picking up where he left off at the Ryder Cup and just casually dropping 62s on a Thursday is a sign that the game has passed Tiger by. 

That this isn’t the New Tiger, this is the Old Tiger, not the Old Old Tiger. The Old Tiger being the guy who talked a good game and then left it on the driving range. As opposed to the Old Old Tiger, who won tournaments the moment he stepped out of the loaner car.

But looking at the leaderboard and declaring Tiger dead after one round would be dumb. Because Rahm and many of the other leaders played the North Course while Tiger played the South Course yesterday. That flips today and at the start of the third segment of this show, Tiger will be playing the South Course. And if he wants to make a move out of 53rd place, now is the time.

Again, I’m not sounding the alarm or smashing the panic button on Tiger Mania. Yesterday was a perfectly fine round. Not good. Not bad. Not great. Not horrible. Just fine. Maybe better than fine given that it was his first round in a tournament and he was feeling it. 

“I’m not used to having this much adrenaline in my system. It’s been a while, so trying to get a feel for how my body’s rotating and how much further I hit it in a tournament situation than I do at home.”

Take that into consideration and 70 is decent. Of course, nobody was hyping decent before this tournament. They were hyping the return of Tiger Woods. 

And then on the second hole, he promptly drove into the rough, chased it with a bad approach into a bunker, and then a two-putt bogey. 

Again, it was the kind of round that doesn't really need a hole by hole recap, but this is Tiger. And the hype coming in was out of control.

But he got it back with a birdie on six. And then there was the interesting sequence on 11 through 13 that included a near perfect five-iron for a tap-in birdie, a misread putt on 12 that led to a bogey, and a 29-foot make for birdie on 13.  

“I felt like I drove it pretty good today even though I missed a few fairways. My feel was a little bit off in my distances with my irons. That’s just from not playing at competitive speed in a while. Hopefully I’ll have that feel a little better tomorrow and start hitting them exactly pin high, which I’ve been pretty good at for most of my career.”

There was also the usual talk about putts that didn’t drop, as if somehow he wasn’t the one who was putting the ball. 

And some of the same promises that we’ve had in the past: “As I get more comfortable, I’ll fire at more flags and start being a little bit more aggressive and start feeling a little bit more comfortable with the game and being back competing again.”

But this time it does feel different. In the past, those comments about getting more comfortable might be followed by a 4-under round or by a mid-round withdrawal. In previous years, it didn’t even feel like Tiger believed it. Now everyone can believe it. 

Coming into yesterday, it seemed like everyone was starting to engrave his name on the trophy before the round even began. Let’s pump the brakes on that a little. He won number 80 at East Lake. Doesn’t seem like he’ll be winning 81 this weekend. And that’s okay. Just like that first round 70, it’s fine.

Not great, and not horrible. But definitely not living up to the advance hype; again, just one round. And his first round back, but most were expecting a helluva lot more than that.