Oh, there was a brief flurry of excitement. Birdies at Nos. 1 and 2 (his 10th and 11th holes of the day after starting on the back nine) juiced the New Yorkers who had massed to watch the threesome of Woods, Brooks Koepka and Francisco Molinari, and a 31-footer for eagle at No. 4 got him under par for the first time all day. But then came a three-putt bogey at No. 5, another at No. 7 and then a badly botched chip from the fringe at the par-3 eighth. At the end of 18 roller-coaster holes, Woods stood at 2-over-par 72, nine shots off the lead.
Oh yes, the leader. Woods didn’t need to look too far to find him, because it was Koepka, who seems to always find himself looking down at everyone else at these sorts of events.
Showing off the burly, robotic precision that has won him three of the last seven majors he’s entered (plus a tie for second behind Woods last month at the Masters), Koepka basically did nothing wrong apart from a few errant shots into the rough that he quickly cleaned up. His card free of bogeys, the defending PGA champion finished with a 7-under 63 — an absurdly dominant score at such a brutish course — that gave him the clubhouse lead, punctuating it with a 33-foot bomb of a putt for birdie at No. 9, his final hole.
The beginning of Woods’s round nearly was bad as its end. His inaugural tee shot at No. 10 found the rough, forcing him to lay up, and his pitch sailed the green. Another chip got him to six feet, but the bogey putt lipped out and he started his tournament two strokes on the wrong side of par. Another double bogey followed at the par-3 17th when he plugged his tee shot into a green-side bunker and sent an awkward punch-out well past the hole.
The 4-under flurry through the first four holes of his second nine got everyone excited again, but he gave all but one of those strokes back to close things out.
Woods’s round, hole by hole
Woods gets out of there with a solid par to stop the bleeding and finish his round with a 2-over 72.
Woods couldn’t keep his ball on the green at the par-3 eighth and then boinked the ball nine feet past the cup on his short birdie chip from the fringe. His par putt meandered past to the left, and suddenly most of the joy from earlier on his second nine was gone. That’s bogeys on three of four holes for Woods, who is really struggling on the greens today.
A par 5 for Joe Public players at Bethpage Black but a par 4 for the pros this week (wags are calling it a “par 4 1/2”), No. 7 had seen only three birdies by the time Woods and Co. rolled through early Thursday afternoon. And for the third straight hole, there wouldn’t be one for Woods: He once again left himself with an ocean’s worth of green (55 feet) to traverse after his approach. This one he left short and the par putt, a no-gimme 6-footer, limped off to the right for another three-putt bogey.
Lucky to find the left-side sand and not the left-side rough, Woods was able to get his second shot onto the green, though still not particularly close. Showing a more delicate touch this time around after his three-putt follies at No. 5, he kept his speed in check on the 48-footer and was able to convert the par.
Playing as the third-toughest hole Thursday, finding the fairway at No. 5 is pretty much a requirement. Woods did so, but he left himself with a 32-footer for birdie that sped past the hole. He then rimmed out the four-footer for par for a deflating three-putt and a bogey.
Oh by the way, Koepka carded another birdie to move to 6 under.
Woods’s dominance of the front nine continued on the par-5 4th. Reaching the green in two, Woods curled in a 31-footer for eagle to get on the good side of par for the first time in the first round.
Suddenly, he’s in a tie for fifth, but still four strokes behind Koepka.
Alas, three in a row was not meant to be. A superb tee shot left Woods with an eight-footer for birdie, but it slipped past to the left.
Koepka hit his birdie putt increase his hold atop the leader board.
We said the front nine would be more forgiving than the back, and Woods is taking advantage. He stuck his approach to three feet and converted the easy birdie, his second in a row.
Woods didn’t help himself on another of Bethpage Black’s easier holes with a tee shot that went right, into the rough, but his second shot got a nice bounce onto the green and he then sank the 14-footer for a somewhat surprising birdie.
Koepka also birdied and is alone atop the leader board at 4 under. It’s a major. Is anyone surprised?
No. 18 (par 4, 411 yards)
A perfect tee shot and nice approach left Woods with 15 feet for a rebound birdie at the 18th — a rare vulnerable hole at Bethpage Black — but his putt stayed left and wasn’t judged correctly. Another par.
Off to the front nine, which has been playing easier than the back. We’ll see if Woods can make a few of these up.
No. 17 (par 3, 207 yards)
Short, right and plugged near the edge of one of the five bunkers that surround the green after his tee shot, Woods had to manufacture a stance to punch out. It wasn’t pretty — there was almost no way it was going to be pretty — and Woods was left with a 30-footer for par, which he promptly bashed eight feet past the hole. The bogey save wasn’t there, and Woods had his second double bogey of the day.
No. 16 (par 4, 490 yards)
Woods’s run of tee-shot success skidded to a halt at the elevated tee box on No. 16, his drive staying left and landing in the rough. Hitting from what the live-stream announcer dubbed a “gnarly” lie, he could only muscle the ball into the fairway with his second shot. His pitch from short of the green had hope, but it went just past. Considering his tee shot, Woods should be quite happy with par there.
No. 15 (par 4, 484 yards)
It’s crucial for tee shots to find the fairway on the uphill 15th, and Woods did (finding the fairway hasn’t been his issue so far, apart from his first hole). That set up his first real good birdie chance of the day, a 15-footer that he judged perfectly for only the second birdie of the day at No. 15.
No. 14 (par 3, 161 yards)
Woods’s threesome had to wait a bit for the green at the shortest hole on the course to clear, and the Masters champion played it pretty safe with a tee shot to 34 feet. His birdie putt wasn’t on line but his four-foot par putt was.
Facing a similar length but a more straightforward line, Koepka hit second long putt of the day to move to 2 under and a share of the very early lead. Molinari also birdied.
No. 13 (par 5, 608 yards)
Woods found his third straight fairway at this straightforward (if long) par 5 — one of only two on the course — setting himself up for his first birdie of the tournament. Alas, it was not to be, because he once again flew the green with his chip shot from 87 yards out (eerily reminiscent of his miscue on his first hole, which was from almost the same distance). His pitch from some thick stuff was good enough for a missed-opportunity par.
No. 12 (par 4, 515 yards)
His waywardness out of the way after his troublesome first hole, Woods again found a nice spot in the fairway at the brutish 12th hole and played a safe approach to 38 feet. His birdie putt up a rise was well judged and it’s another safe par.
No. 11 (par 4, 435 yards)
A striped tee shot and a solid approach gave Woods a 43-footer for birdie, but it skidded just right. He cleaned it up for par.
No. 10 (par 4, 502 yards)
Woods’s initial tee shot of the tournament went a bit right, landing in an initial cut of rough, and he laid up from 201 yards out on his second shot. But the safe play didn’t work: His third shot was low and long, flying over the back of the green. After chipping to within six feet, his putt edged out and it’s a messy double bogey to start.
Koepka, the defending champion, drained a 40-footer from off the green for birdie.