Tiger Woods's brush with out-of-bounds shows fire still burning
Woods opens with 68 to trail Henrik Stenson by four at Arnold Palmer Invitational
Tiger Woods reacts after sinking a long birdie putt on the seventh hole during the first round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, Florida. Photograph: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
The scorecard tells one story, a player’s reaction though also tells a tale; and the anger shown by Tiger Woods – when his tee shot on the third hole, his 12th, of the opening round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational was declared out-of-bounds – proved his competitive juices are well and truly flowing again.
In having to retrace his steps back to the tee box, in running up a double-bogey that threatened to derail his bid for a ninth career title at the Bay Hill resort in Orlando, Woods’s next response was to birdie three of the next four holes to sign for a four-under-par 68 that put into competitive mix again, following his runner-up finish to Paul Casey at the Valspar Championship.
Former British Open champion Henrik Stenson – with 92 per cent driving accuracy – claimed the clubhouse lead with a magnificent 64, eight under. “I’m happy with the start, and would like to build on that,” said Stenson, who required only 20 putts.
Stenson caught fire on his homeward run with four successive birdies from the 10th, a sole bogey on the 14th where he drove into trees, and then back-to-back birdies on 15 and 16, but the Swede’s brilliance was still outshone by Woods’s on-going comeback following spinal fusion surgery.
Woods’s troubles on the third came when he hit a three-wood tee-shot that flew 40 yards right of the fairway and became entangled in a temporary mesh fence that guarded the back garden of an adjoining house that served as out-of-bounds. It was only when he reached his ball that a rules official informed him he was subject to a penalty and would need to go back to the tee to play his third.
“Well, you look at the two poles and I’m out by probably three, four, five inches,” said Woods, although his response – birdies at three of the four, including a mammoth 70-footer for birdie on the seventh – ensured he would remain very much in the thick of the action.
So too Rory McIlroy, who opened with a 69. After missing the cut in two of his four PGA Tour events so far this season, the 28-year-old from Holywood, Co Down, showed the benefits of the work he has been doing with coach Michael Bannon as improved iron play matched other facets of his game to open with a 69, the only blip coming on his finishing hole.
Bogey-free through 17 holes, McIlroy – using a three-wood – pulled his tee-shot on the 18th and was forced to reload. At the second attempt, he found the fairway but his flawless round on the scorecard was undone and that finishing double-bogey six was the only sour taste of a round that featured improvements.
Although McIlroy managed only one birdie on the four Par 5s – to go with three pars – there were more productive rewards elsewhere, as he birdied four holes on his front nine (first, sixth, seventh and eighth) and then the 10th in starting his homeward journey only for the putter to cool as he reeled off seven straight pars before that double-bogey at the last.
There was a further encouraging opening salvo from Graeme McDowell – who contended in the Genesis Open at Riviera last month into the final round – with the Northern Irishman shooting a solid 68, four under.
McDowell’s home comforts – he lives in the area, at Lake Nona where he also has a successful restaurant – and familiarity with Bay Hill have ensured some good performances in the past, including two runner-up finishes.
“It’s a golf course that’s been good to me in the past. My sort of history here’s been a little up-and-down. I’ve had a couple seconds and a lot of missed cuts. But when I do play well here, I play well,” said McDowell, who featured an eagle – on the par-five 16th, his seventh hole of his round – two birdies and a bogey.
Pádraig Harrington opened with a 71. After grinding it out on the front nine in the cool morning conditions, the Dubliner birdied the 10th and added further birdies on the 12th and 16th to move to two under only to bogey the 18th where his approach found a greenside bunker and he failed to get up and down.
Unfortunately for Shane Lowry, the 18th inflicted a harsher penalty. Also in a greenside bunker on the finishing hole, Lowry – who’d eagled the 16th to get to level par on his round – watched in horror as his recovery shot cleared the green and finished in the rocks on the lakeshore and he was forced to take a penalty in running up a triple-bogey seven to sign for a 75.
Leading clubhouse scores
(USA unless stated, Irish in bold)
64 - Henrik Stenson (Swe)
67 - Jimmy Walker, Rickie Fowler
68 - Patrick Reed , Tiger Woods, Byeong Hun An (Korea)
69 - Graeme McDowell, Brandon Harkins, Justin Rose (Eng), Zach Johnson, Tommy Fleetwood (Eng), Rory McIlroy
70 - Bubba Watson, William McGirt, Hideki Matsuyama (Jap), Ryan Armour, Paul Goydos, Marc Leishman (Aus)
71 - Pádraig Harrington, Beau Hossler, Kyle Stanley, Grayson Murray, Tyler Duncan, Ryan Moore, Charley Hoffman, Alex Noren (Swe), Jason Kokrak, Tom Hoge, Curtis Luck (Aus)
75 - Shane Lowry