The mantra of golf is “It ain’t how, it’s how many.” Style points aren’t counted, strokes are. And the most important are those on the greens, which can save a round, or for Tiger Woods on Thursday, ruin one.
“This is probably the worst putting round I’ve ever had,” Woods said. Maybe an exaggeration. Maybe not.
A man who at his best could make anything from anywhere, who for nearly a decade was judged the best putter in the game, seemed flummoxed.
This was the Great Return, Tiger back in action, after honing a new swing — which was reasonably effective — after not playing competitively for nearly two months.
He came to the Frys.com Open at CordeValle, the resort course just north of Gilroy, 80 miles south of San Francisco, where a little tournament became gigantic because of his presence.
The weather was a drag. Rain on and off. Tiger’s putting was even more of a drag. Except for two holes.
He shot a 2-over-par 73, six shots behind the leaders. He was four shots worse than one of his playing partners, amateur Patrick Cantlay, the kid from UCLA. Tiger is tied for 86th.
“I can’t putt any worse than I did today,” he added.
And all that after a glorious beginning, a birdie at the first.
But he bogied the second, going from bunker to bunker to bunker — shades of the PGA Championship, when he was in 22 traps in two rounds. The third hole he missed a 3-foot par putt. Like that, he was over par, never again to get even.
Not when he missed a 5-footer on 11, double-bogeyed 12 after his second shot landed in a hazard overgrown with wild grass, and missed a 5½-footer on 14.
“I had a hard time hitting my stroke,” said Woods, then sounding like a 16-handicapper continuing, “then I started altering it, and it was all over the place.”
He was going to add some lead tape to the putter to give it a bit more weight, explaining the trick always worked in the past.
Yet, this is the present, when we’re trying to learn if Tiger, winless in two years, battered by scandal, will come back. So far, no progress, but it’s only one round.
“The rest of the game was not too bad,” said Woods. “But my stroke, I started losing confidence in it because I wasn’t hitting my line, so it was just a downward spiral.”
The fans, maybe 3,000 in his gallery, were on Tiger’s side. He lives in Florida now, but he spent two years at Stanford, some 50 miles up U.S. 101, and that still counts to a Northern California crowd. They oohed and gasped as the ball came up short or slipped by.
Tiger had a sixth consecutive round in which he failed to break par.
“I’ve been working on my full swing,” said Woods. “I’ve putted a lot, but not on greens that are this [slow] speed ... I haven’t played, and I haven’t practiced [putting] as much as in the past.
“I need to put together a good round [Friday], and gradually piece my way back into the tournament.”
As one of his sponsors, Nike, would advise, just do it.
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.