After a month off from competitive golf with plenty of time to sharpen his game, Tiger Woods could not capitalize on the energy and effort he put into that practice. As a result, he shot 4-over 76 in Round 1 of the Zozo Championship -- where he is the defending champion -- and is currently 12 strokes back of leader Sebastian Munoz.
"My game's definitely better than it was at the U.S. Open," Woods said early in the week. "I feel a little bit more prepared, a little bit better, and hopefully that translates into playing the golf course."
It did not translate. Woods finished last in the field in strokes gained off the tee and nearly as bad in strokes gained on approach shots (75th of 77). It's his worst ball-striking round of the last six years. He played the par-5 holes at Sherwood Country Club in 3 over (with a birdie!) and gave himself no shot at scoring at a very easy course (by professional golf standards).
With the scoring average dipping into the 60s on Thursday, Woods did not play like it at all. His average birdie attempt on his front nine (the back nine on the golf course) was from 137 feet away. His shortest look on that side was 23 feet. His only birdie came from 87 feet. This is not where you need to be to contend at a small-field event like this with most of the best players in the world in attendance.
The back nine did not get a lot better. Woods shot a 1-over 37, which sounds fine but he still lost multiple strokes to the field because of how easy Sherwood -- where Woods has five victories -- played over the first 18 holes. His 76 was over six strokes worse than the field average.
The oddity here is that Woods actually looked really good. His swing looked lithe and his body looked fine. None of the results were even in the ballpark of what he wanted, though. Woods beat only one golfer in the field on Thursday in Round 1. Woods' game has not been particularly impressive since he restarted in July, but it hasn't been this bad, especially with his irons.
There is still work to do this week. Though Woods will not go back to back at this tournament after his win in Japan last fall, he does still have three rounds to prepare for the Masters, which will take place in three weeks. Given how good the swing looked on Thursday and how bad his score was, it wouldn't be surprising to see improvement and a bit of momentum going into Augusta National.
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If you're looking for silver linings, Woods' short game looked decent. He gave himself zero chance to score but rolled in that monstrous birdie putt and was top 10 on the day in strokes gained around the greens. Those will both be key when Woods defends at the Masters in November, but without some major improvement from tee to green, Woods won't have any chance of even contending at the last major of the year.