Tiger Woods makes nightmare start with 77 in the desert

Graeme McDowell opens with impressive first round 68 at Dubai Desert Classic

Tiger Woods during the first round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on Thursday. Photograph: Warren Little/Getty Images

Tiger Woods during the first round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on Thursday. Photograph: Warren Little/Getty Images

 

Hopes of Tiger Woods playing on into the weekend at the Dubai Desert Classic aren’t yet in vain. The problem is, they mainly depend on the severity of the freak storm forecast for Friday which, if accurate, could push the second round into Saturday.

The struggles now so associated with Woods intensified during a grim Thursday in the Middle East. The 14-times Major winner, so dejected a figure by the time he stepped towards post-round media duties, didn’t record a single birdie when posting a 77. On his eighth appearance at the Emirates Club, this was the 41-year-old’s worst ever round.

The bigger picture is impossible to ignore. Before a competitive ball was struck in anger, Woods spoke effusively about his supposedly competitive future. What transpired in front of huge Dubai galleries was more akin to George Best at Hibernian than Roger Federer in Melbourne.

Woods didn’t look physically comfortable, putted dreadfully and even when connecting properly saw ball flight that lacked the penetration of the top players in this sport. Barring something akin to a throwback in round two, a second missed cut in as many weeks beckons. The sad thing is, nobody really expects the more positive scenario.

“I didn’t hit the ball very well,” Woods conceded. “I left probably 16 putts short. I just couldn’t get the speed of these greens and consequently it all added up to a pretty high number.

“I wasn’t in pain at all. I was just trying to hit shots and I wasn’t doing a very good job. At the end I finally hit some good ones but the damage had already been done. I could have hung in there, I could have shot something near even par if I would have made some putts, but I made nothing.”

Nonetheless, an element of Woods optimism remained. His logic was thus: a downturn in conditions could pull others in the field back towards him if – and it is such a huge if – Woods himself can post a decent score. “Hopefully this wind blows tomorrow, I shoot a good round and get back to even par,” Woods said. “That’s certainly not out of the realm of winning the golf tournament.

“But I have to go out there and do it, I have to go out there and execute. Hopefully it is tough and I can play a really solid round and give myself more looks. I haven’t given myself a lot of looks at birdies and I need to give myself a lot more.”

Woods did at least admit staying patient has become a problem. “I’m fighting my ass off to try and shoot a score,” he said. “I’m trying to get back to even par and once I get back to even par, try and get one or two under just to try and creep my way back.

“I kept telling Joey [LaCava, Woods’s caddie]. I said: ‘If we could get to even par at the turn, we have two driveable holes, three short ones – maybe we can get to under par for the round, we can get this thing going, we can get it moving.’ It just never materialised. I never did it.”

Woods was at a loss to explain what has changed between early December, when he showed signs of promise during a tournament in the Bahamas, and now. “I certainly drove it better back then,” he said. “If I knew, I could tell you right now but there’s something that’s different.”

This clearly wasn’t in the script for Matthew Fitzpatrick, the young Englishman who achieved a lifetime dream by playing alongside Woods for the first time. Fitzpatrick duly outscored his hero by eight before asking the European Tour if he could keep his scorecard, as signed by Woods, for posterity.

As if to rub further salt into Woods’s open wound, his long time nemesis Sergio Garcia leads here at seven under par. “Tomorrow is supposed to be really, really tough,” warned the Spaniard. “They are even speaking about not knowing if we are able to play or not, as hard as it might blow. So hopefully that doesn’t happen so we can have a nice, normal tournament.”

Graeme McDowell enjoyed a promising first round for the second week running, the Northern Irishman carding a four-under 68 to share eighth position with five others, including Henrik Stenson.

Paul Dunne signed for a two-under 70, but Darren Clarke is well down the field after an opening 75.

(Guardian service)

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