AKRON, Ohio – The stage doesn’t make the artist.
Despite playing on a venue where he has won a PGA Tour-record seven times, Tiger Woods recorded the highest round of his professional career at Firestone Country Club on Thursday in the first round of the Bridgestone Invitational.
Taking another backward step in his comeback from a raft of personal and professional issues, the defending champion shot a 4-over 74 and managed only two birdies in an event where he has never finished worse than a tie for fourth.
“Just because I like the golf course doesn't mean I'm going to play well on it,” a deflated Woods said afterward. “You know, unfortunately that's not the case. You still have to execute, and I didn't do that today. I did not execute the shots that I wanted to execute today, didn't shape the ball the way I wanted to shape it, and certainly did not putt well.”
Those lyrics have become all too familiar. He hit 5 of 14 fairways and spent most of the day carving recovery shots from the rough and around the course’s towering oak trees. His worse previous score at Firestone was a 72 and he had managed nine straight rounds of par or better on the famous parkland track entering the week.
It mirrored his season in many regards. Amazingly, the closest Woods has been to the overnight lead in any of his starts this year came in his first outing, at the Masters, when he was two shots back after the first and second rounds. At Firestone, he stands 10 shots behind Bubba Watson, who opened with a 64.
Worse, Woods was heckled at least once during the round. As he walked to the clubhouse from the 18th green, a male fan along the ropes waited until Woods was within arm’s reach and said, “You’re washed up, Tiger, give it up.”
Woods didn’t acknowledge the fan, though he did offer a self-deprecating curtsey for the gallery when he made his second birdie of the day, on the 17th. When the ball went in the cup, he turned and actually bowed twice at the waist to the fans, tipping his cap.
It was awful and uphill from the start. He bogeyed the first two holes and never sniffed getting into the leaderboard mix at a venue where he has been practically invincible, winning his last four starts at Firestone. He missed the 2008 event because of knee surgery.
“I was 2-over through two, on two easy holes, and from then on, I didn't hit any good putts, either,” Woods said, repeating a common lament about his putting this year. “I was struggling on the greens and didn't hit any good iron shots. Probably hit about two good iron shots all day today. That's definitely not enough.”
Woods had never before bogeyed the pushover second hole in 44 previous rounds at Firestone.
Woods had 99 putts over his first three rounds at his last start, the British Open, and followed up with 32 on Thursday. Few others were having the same issues, making it even more frustrating for Woods, whose position as world No. 1 is again in jeopardy. The course was there for the taking.
“Absolutely, it's soft, the fairways are running, but they're not out-of-control fast,” he said. “They're still giving it up a little bit. But still, the greens are really soft and you can go after just about every flag. The 5-irons and 4-irons are still holding, so it was a day you could be aggressive if you played better than I did.”
Woods didn't stick around for any post-round tinkering. Moments after hs conducted a brief post-round interview, Woods and his caddie loaded their gear in a Lexus SUV and were gone.