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Tiger far from his best at Augusta, and he knows it

by | CBSSports.com Senior Golf Columnist
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'I hit some of the worst shots I ever hit today,' Woods says. (Getty Images)  
'I hit some of the worst shots I ever hit today,' Woods says. (Getty Images)  

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- For a guy who was just excoriated in Gentleman's Quarterly for having not changed his stripes, Tiger Woods put on a truth-telling clinic Thursday at the Masters.

After slapping the ball all over Richmond County, including a pair of wayward snap hooks that cost him two penalty strokes, the former world No. 1 stepped right up to the microphone and admitted that he stunk worse than the kitty litter the club tossed on the ground Thursday morning to help soak up all the overnight rain.

He didn't exactly plead the Fifth.

"I hit some of the worst shots I ever hit today," Woods said.

Nobody argued.

Right at the top of the leaderboard midway through the round, Woods skidded home with an even-par 72 that was only partly representative of the troubles he experienced as he sought his fifth green jacket at Augusta National.

For those who believe in foreshadowing, we can redefine that word for you. More like fore-shadowing, which was the word that was often uttered as Woods hit a series of towering hooks on the first two holes, including one that resulted in an unplayable-lie penalty on the second hole.

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Woods knew he was in for a long day almost immediately, because like a baseball pitcher who has nothing in the bullpen, Woods was scraping ball off the practice-tee turf.

"You know what, I could have probably maybe got one, maybe two more out of that but that was about it," he said. "I squeezed a lot out of that round. Didn't hit it very good at all.

"Warmed up bad, too, and it continued on the golf course. I just felt my way around today."

Pretty much by Braille. You could have plugged him into polygraph on this one and he would have passed with flying colors -- it wasn't pretty and he knew it.

Woods, who has been trying to master a power fade, was hitting some massive draws and six times missed the fairway in the left rough or trees. Twice, he had to take penalty shots for driving balls into unplayable places. He also slapped a drive into a right fairway bunker, and hit a weak popup off the 14th tee that prompted him to avert his gaze and rub the back of his neck.

A network analyst even proposed that Woods might be having neck issues, but when Woods trekked off to the driving range for another 90 minutes of work, that notion was put to rest.

"I reverted to my old motor patterns," Woods said.

No, he's not talking about the Escalade deal, though he didn't drive that one very straight, either.

Funny, but nobody recalled Woods hitting so many towering hooks under Hank Haney, his previous, and now estranged, coach. Woods mentioned Haney for the first time in months after his round, albeit with some prompting from media. Haney released a controversial book about their time together last week and reports say it will be No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list this weekend.

"[I had] the Hank backswing and a new downswing," Woods said.

In all, it creaked like a rusty porch swing.

Amazingly, the metamorphosis for Woods on Thursday was a complete turnaround from his previous form in PGA Tour play. Smashing it off the tee better than at any points in a decade, Woods was ranked No. 1 in overall driving entering the Masters, but found only seven of 14 fairways overall.

For half the round, it looked like Woods might just be positioned to put up his second opening round in the 60s in 18 career tries at Augusta. After making birdie on the 10th hole, he moved to 2 under and into T4.

It prompted a guy named Phil to do a little fist pump a few feet away. That would be Knight, not Mickelson. As Woods played the 12th hole, a large pinecone fell from 50 feet up in a pine tree and caught a woman standing next to me square on the head, prompting a startled shriek of fright.

That was about the only noise Woods generated the rest of the way. He failed to birdie the easy 13th and 15th holes, blowing his approach into the back bunker on the first and missing the fairway on the latter, and limped in after pounding his drive into a bush on the 18th and absorbing his second penalty assessment.

As for perspective, it wasn't all bad. Woods had struggled mightily on the Augusta greens since he last won the green jacket in 2005, when he opened with a 74. In fact, his putter kept him in the ballgame -- he had four one-putt greens on the front nine.

"I mean, this golf course is playing too difficult to go super low on," Woods said. "Some of these pins are really tough. No one was tearing it up. When I went to the putting green [before starting the round], I stopped in the clubhouse and took a look at the scores and there was only one person under par at the time.

"So this golf course was very difficult."

For Woods and everybody else, true enough again.

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