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As Tiger Woods returns at the PGA, pain lurks around every swing

Tiger Woods had seven bogeys in his final 13 holes during his first round at Southern Hills. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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TULSA — A rebuilt lower right leg for which amputation once lurked as a possibility had one of its groaning days Thursday. It clearly played some role in the 4-over-par 74 with which Tiger Woods opened the 104th PGA Championship and with his consecutive bogeys on Nos. 18 (his ninth hole), 1 and 2.

“Well, I just can’t load it,” Woods said of his swing. “Loading hurts, pressing off it hurts, and walking hurts, and twisting hurts. It’s just golf. I don’t play that, if I don’t do that, then I’m all right. ... We’ll start the recovery process and get after it tomorrow.”

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That recovery process, a daily matter, has become a recurring theme at Woods’s two forays into major tournaments since his harrowing car crash of February 2021. In his first competitive event back, the Masters last month, he told repeatedly of the work his “team” had to do in post-round hours just to try to get him viable for the next day.

The PGA at Southern Hills marks his second event back, and it began in a shouting grouping with Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, with giant galleries ushering in the energy of a major week. “Here, it’s big wide corridors” with “a lot of room,” McIlroy said of the course and the hubbub, so it “doesn’t feel as oppressive as some other venues.” The sprawling masses got a thrill — if they could see it — at No. 10, the group’s first hole, when Woods went 339 yards smack amid the fairway to 95 yards, then used a wedge to get to four feet.

That birdie would get him halfway to the 2-under score he would have once he added a birdie at No. 14, his fifth hole, a par-3 he finished in two from 15 feet.

Woe took over from there. Woods would bogey seven of his last 13 holes, with a birdie at No. 3 tossed in. He visited one little forest (No. 9), visited other roughs and frequented bunkers. He found a left green-side bunker on No. 4, a right green-side bunker on No. 8, a left green-side bunker on No. 15 and a rear green-side bunker on No. 18. In those bunkers, he found unpleasant surprise even if it didn’t include scorpions.

“All the bunker shots sort of came out hot,” he said. “The sand is a lot faster than I thought it would be. Kind of been that way all week, especially if you get up in the areas where it’s not raked. I had a couple of those balls where it was in those areas. It’s like, ‘Is there a lot of sand here, is there not, how should I play it, and when do you dig in with your feet when you’re not in those areas where it’s raked?’ I feel like sometimes the sand — I’m guessing, and I guessed wrong.”

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Woods shot 71-74-78-78 at the Masters, drawing booming cheers and widespread marveling almost 14 months after the crash had jeopardized the idea of playing golf again. For his second try, five weeks after the first, he came upon Southern Hills, a course holding its eighth major. It’s where Woods finished tied for 12th in the 2001 U.S. Open, which snapped his streak of major titles at that time at an otherworldly four, then won the 2007 PGA Championship, which brought an otherworldly 13th major title (of an eventual 15).

By 2022, at 46 and in an era of golf balls traveling as never before, on a course 425 yards longer than in 2007, he found himself yakking with caddie Joe LaCava about the way the sport has changed. Sometimes, a questioner pointed out, McIlroy and Spieth would hit drivers off tees where Woods would opt for irons.

“I was playing to my spots,” Woods said, “and those obviously have a different game plan. It’s just different. The game is played very differently now, and it’s very aggressive. We were talking about it today, Joey and I, the days of the Lee Janzens and the Scott Simpsons and the [Nick] Faldos of the world, playing that kind of golf is gone. You go out there and hit driver a lot, and if you have a hot week, you have a hot week and you’re up there. The game is just different — it’s much more aggressive now, and I know that.”

Irons, as it developed, weren’t friends on this hot day, and he called those shots “not very good.” He said, “I didn’t get the ball very close,” and his putts for par on the bogey holes were 21 feet, 19, 16, 10, 28, 41 and 51. And he said, underpinning all of it, “Yeah, my leg is not feeling as good as I would like it to be.”

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