DUBLIN, Ohio — One day after Tiger Woods boasted about how, regardless of how poorly a round is going he never comes close to considering “bagging it,’’ he fought.
Woods looked like he was headed toward a ghastly high number in the opening round of The Memorial Tournament Thursday at Muirfield — bloating to 4-over through his first seven holes — and then he reeled it in on his final 10 holes to finish with a respectable even-par 72.
Woods, who’s been off since his tie for 11th at The Players Championship earlier this month, started off poorly, carding a sloppy bogey on the par-5 11th hole, his second of the round, with a tee shot left of the creek near the fairway. On No. 15, the second par-5 on the back nine, he hit his tee shot out of bounds to the right and took double bogey.
The two messes on the par 5s were followed by a bogey from the back bunker on the par-3 16th and suddenly Woods was 4-over par through his first seven holes, nine shots behind Beau Hossler, the leader at that moment.
A birdie on No. 17 calmed the storm for the moment and got him to 3-over par. Woods went on to shoot a 3-under-par 33 on his final nine holes, which was the front nine.
“I fought back,’’ Woods said. “I didn’t really have much starting out, didn’t really feel my swing. I kind of made a few tweaks, a few changes (in mid-round), and made a couple birdies, made a couple of putts and lo and behold I finished at even par.
“I know it’s a long way back (from the lead, which was 7-under par at the time by Joaquin Nieman and Abraham Ancer), but at least I’ve got a fighting chance.’’
Woods said his surgically-repaired back was “tight,’’ but insisted he was in no pain.
“I wasn’t rotating very well,’’ he said. “It just happens. I just have days like that. It’s aging and it’s surgeries.’’
Woods, early on, looked like he might be headed for a big number. He’s shot four scores in the 80s in his professional career, the highest being the 85 he posted in the third round of the 2015 Memorial. That was the last time before Thursday he’d played the tournament he’s won five times.
His first came in the third round of the 2002 British Open at Muirfield, where he shot 81 in wild wind and rain conditions. He shot an 82 in the 2015 Waste Management Open, where he struggled with the chip yips. And he shot 80 at the 2015 U.S. Open first round.
The 85 at Memorial in 2015 left Woods playing by himself in the first group of the final round, during which he shot 74 and finished last by eight shots.
Asked if it was “difficult’’ to play by himself (with an odd number of players having made the cut), Woods said, “I didn’t want to have anyone watch me play the way I was playing.’’
“I tried,’’ he said of his 85. “Unfortunately that’s all I had. I take great pride in … never bagging it. I’ve tried into every single round and tried to fight to the end. I think I hit two or three rounds in the 80s in my career and unfortunately that (85) was the highest one I’ve ever had. It didn’t feel very good.’’
Woods, after his promising start to the 2018 season that included a runner-up finish at the Valspar Championship and a tie for fifth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational on March, elevated his aspirations and expectations.
Even after a disappointing tie for 32nd at the Masters, his tie for 11th at The Players was cause to believe Woods might be ready to make a run at the final three major championships, beginning with the US Open in two weeks at Shinnecock.
Woods, too, has serious designs on earning his way onto the Ryder Cup player roster despite the fact that he’s already been tabbed a vice captain.
“Of course I want to play,’’ Woods said of the Ryder Cup, which takes place in late September and early October in France. “I want to play as a player. I haven’t played in a while. I have a lot of work to do between now and then to be part of the team as a player. I’m going to be part of it either way as an assistant captain.’’
Then Woods joked, “I know that the players and the captain wear different outfits as part of the Ryder Cup and I would really like to screw that up.’’
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