2018 Valspar Championship leaderboard: Tiger Woods shoots wild 70 in Round 1
It wasn't the smoothest day for Woods, but he's still just three off the lead
In his first ever round at the Valspar Championship, Tiger Woods shot a 1-under 70 and sits just three strokes behind leader Corey Conners after 18 holes. It was a wild, up-and-down day for Woods, who made just nine pars en route to his 70.
There were near hole-outs, near aces and a near snapped wrist on a tree for Woods. It wasn't the smoothest ride, but in his fourth tournament of 2018, he's certainly in contention after the first 18 holes.
"I'm still working on it, and I'm getting a little bit better, piece by piece," Woods told Golf Channel after his round. "Today was a very good test with all the things I'm trying to implement. I really controlled the ball well for most of the day. Oh yeah, (my juices) are flowing. I'm revved up. I love competing. I love mixing it up with these guys."
Here are five takeaways on Round 1.
1. His two best shots: Gary Koch said on the broadcast that this course suits Woods well, and I agree with him. I don't pretend to be a course architecture expert, but it seems like Woods thrives right now when driver is taken out of his hands and he has to hit flush iron shots. He didn't always do that in Round 1, but when he did, they were mesmerizing. There were two in particular that stood out over the first 18 holes. The first came at the par-4 7th hole, where he would actually go on to miss the birdie putt.
The second came at the par-3 17th, a nice little 199-yard hole that Woods nearly aced. It was the shot of the day for Woods and probably the shot of the tournament thus far. "This was a nice little 5-iron," Woods told Golf Channel. "I just took something off a five. I liked it right away, and it turned out pretty good." Yes, it did.
2. Chipped it so well: Remember when Tiger had the chipping yips? Yeah, me either. Woods gained nearly two strokes on the field around the greens on Thursday and gave himself opportunities on most of his nine missed greens in regulation. He was fantastic out of the sand and nearly holed out multiple shots just off the green. This is a great sign not only for this week, but also for his appearance at Augusta in a month.
3. Distance control: Woods struggled with his distance control in Wednesday's pro am, and that was an issue again on Thursday. He finished nearly 100th in proximity to the hole, which is an area where he really excelled at the Honda Classic. He gave himself just six birdie putts under 15 feet, and converted five of them. His score probably should have been much worse given the way he hit it, but he took real advantage of the opportunities he had.
"It was really brutal out there," said Woods of the wind and the conditions, which probably played into some of Woods' struggles. "We as a group got fooled a lot. It was tough."
4. Couldn't save par: As is often the case, his score also could have been a lot better. Woods missed par-saving putts of 5 feet and 7 feet (twice). He often stepped in four- to five-footers (which was awesome and hilarious), but he also looked a little uncomfortable on a few he was standing over (which was probably to be expected given that this is his first time to play this course in 20 years).
5. How scary was the shot on No. 16? Woods slammed his wrists against a tree on the par-4 16th hole and let go of his club in the process. He went on to make a miracle par, but it was a disconcerting moment for somebody who has experienced all manner of injuries over the last decade. Woods winced it off as he walked up the fairway and didn't say anything about it afterwards other than that he was concerned for the patrons.
"It didn't feel very good," Woods told Golf Channel. "I moved all the people and warned them in case the club breaks."
It didn't break, but Woods is now in prime position to contend (and possibly win?) for the first time in five years. He'll go again early on Friday with Henrik Stenson (+3) and Jordan Spieth (+5).
As for the other stars in the field, Sergio Garcia found some success with a 1-under 70, but Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy both struggled in Round 1. McIlroy shot a 3-over 74, and Spieth struggled to a 5-over 76. Given how strong most of the rest of the top players are showing out right now, it's a little disconcerting to see these two struggle in this way just a month before the Masters.
Maybe they turn it around on Friday, but for now, McIlroy's struggles are maybe more pronounced from tee-to-green (64th in strokes gained) than with his putting (119th). This might look like he's struggling more with his putting, but the reality here is that his career average from tee to green in a given event is much farther from 64th than his career average in putting is from 119th.
Spieth, on the other hand, struggled everywhere, most notably around the greens and with the putter. He was outside the top 120 in strokes gained in both of those categories (he made just 52 feet of putts on Thursday). Spieth made just one birdie to six bogeys playing alongside Woods and Stenson, and he'll have a lot of work to do on Friday to make the cut and get to the weekend.
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