TULSA, Okla. — Tiger Woods has a very good humorousness, though it’s rare for him to make use of it in a public setting. But at 46, he’s evolving. What was once unthinkable for him — playfully mocking his poor play on the golf course — is one among his recent, winsome tools.
On Thursday, six weeks after his stirring comeback on the Masters Tournament, Woods returned to competitive golf in the primary round of the P.G.A. Championship. After a blazing start with two early birdies, Woods was limping a little bit on his right leg, which was surgically reconstructed after multiple serious fractures sustained in his horrific automotive crash early last 12 months. A few holes later, Woods was limping loads, even sometimes using a golf club like a cane to ascend or descend hills.
Not surprisingly, his rating soon reflected his infirmity as he shot a four-over-par 74 with seven bogeys in his final 13 holes. After he had hobbled to a rostrum for a news conference, he was asked about his rebuilt leg.
“Yeah, not feeling nearly as good as I would really like it to be,” he said with a smile. Woods added that he couldn’t put weight on his right leg in his backswing — referred to as loading — and he also struggled to push off his leg on the downswing, too.
“Loading hurts, pressing off it hurts, and walking hurts and twisting hurts,” he said.
Woods then deadpanned: “It’s just golf. If I don’t play that, if I don’t try this, then I’m all right.”
“We’ll start the recovery process and get after it tomorrow,” he added, predicting that his evening would come with ice baths and myriad efforts to cut back inflammation in his right leg.
Tiger Woods’s Lasting Impact and Uncertain Future
The star golfer, one of the crucial influential athletes of the last quarter-century, is mounting a comeback after being badly injured in a automotive crash.
And so, Woods’s ongoing return to elite golf is following the bumpy, irregular progression that even he forecast before the Masters when he said he expected a series of fine days and bad days.
“It’s a process,” Woods said.
A part of that process, as Woods acknowledged on Tuesday, was that his right leg and his ailing back, which has been operated on five times, not allowed him to practice for long periods of time, which had been routine for him since he was a kindergartner. While watching Woods play on Thursday, it was easy to wonder if a few of his troubles on the golf course were related to an absence of preparation off it, especially for somebody like Woods who was once renowned for exhausting work habits.
For instance, one among Woods’s playing partners Thursday was Rory McIlroy, who’s the first-round leader after a five-under-par 65. McIlroy successfully navigated the tricky sloping greens of the Southern Hills Country Club with deft chipping, bunker play and deadly accurate putting.
Woods’s short game was once probably his best strength, but on Thursday it let him down repeatedly. Furthermore, Woods appeared uncomfortable, or unsure, over those shots, which was startling. Woods with a wedge or a putter in his hands had all the time been commanding and cocksure.
But on the sixth hole that Woods played Thursday, when he was still two under par for the round, he was in a greenside bunker with a reasonably straightforward shot to the pin, which was 23 feet away. Shockingly, he blasted his shot 21 feet past the outlet and made bogey.
Three holes later, playing the 18th hole because his group began its round on the tenth tee, Woods was in one other greenside bunker and again thumped his ball 20 feet past the outlet for a bogey. Even after Woods rallied for a birdie three holes later, one other bunker shot on the subsequent hole sailed over the green and led to yet one more bogey.
Woods looked exasperated, and as often happens to any golfer, missteps in a single facet of the sport led to an absence of execution in one other a part of a part of the sport as Woods didn’t convert several long- or medium-range putts. Consider that some people think Woods was the best pressure putter of golf’s modern era.
Asked about his difficulties from the sand, Woods said: “Yeah, all of the bunker shots form of got here out hot.”
But his bunker play was not the one way Thursday’s round seemed uncharacteristic for Woods. For greater than 25 years, Woods was referred to as an aggressive golfer, and he all but invented the bombing-it-off-the-tee-with-a-driver style that has overtaken the game.
But on Thursday, as McIlroy and the third golfer within the grouping, Jordan Spieth, launched drivers far down the golf green, Woods was hitting long irons and playing for position. Sometimes he was greater than 60 yards behind McIlroy off the tee, although as Woods later said, not with the ability to push off his right leg caused him to slice shots to the best.
“I wouldn’t have been to date back if I’d have hit the iron shot solid and put the ball in the golf green,” he said. “I used to be playing to my spots, and people guys obviously have a special game plan. The sport is just different. It’s far more aggressive now, and I do know that. But I used to be playing to my spots. If I’d have hit the ball solidly on those two holes and put the ball in the golf green, I’d have been positive.”
He continued: “But I didn’t try this. I put the ball within the rough.”
The smile that Woods dropped at the start of his news conference was dissipating. The golf comeback that seemed unlikely only 15 months ago would proceed Friday, Woods said. But before he walked away with a noticeable, lurching limp, Woods had a final comment.
“It was a frustrating day,” he said.