Tiger Woods was up against it quickly on Thursday morning at Bellerive.
First he was up to his neck in talent, going out with defending PGA Champion Justin Thomas and bomb-launching Rory McIlroy.
Then came the start.
“Got off to a terrible start,” Woods recalled after his round.
That might have been an understatement. His opening tee shot found the right rough and Woods learned quickly that you cannot score from the rough at this 100th PGA Championship. A hack-out led to an opening bogey and if that wasn’t bad enough, he botched up the 11th, a 355-yard birdie hole.
He hit an iron off the tee to stay in play but pulled it into the thick stuff on the left.
His second? Woods explained what happened with that wedge swing:
“I stuck it in the ground. I had 118 total. I was trying to hit the ball left of the hole. I stuck it in the ground and hit it short right. I came up probably, what, 12 yards short of my number?”
Those 12 yards short left him in the water. He went to the drop area, hit a less than impressive sand wedge and would two-putt for double-bogey.
Three-over after two.
“I could have easily gone the other way, being three-over through two,” Woods said. “A lot of things could happen. Not a lot of them were positive, but I hung in there and turned it around.”
Woods fought back immediately when he stuck his approach at the 452-yard 12th to two feet. It was an important birdie. “It kept me in the golf tournament,” was how Woods described that bounce-back birdie. A missed green at the par three 16th put him back at three-over, six behind playing partner Thomas. At the 18th, Woods bounced back again, hit his approach at that 467-yard beast to five feet and turned two-over.
He cleaned it up over the final nine as he sandwiched six pars between birdies at one and eight. A nice par to finish and what looked like doom, ended up as an even par round of 70. He tied McIlroy and was just a shot behind Thomas.
It was nothing but sweat and hard work.
“I just hung in there. I was trying to grind away at it, pick away at it, and trying to get to maybe 1 over par at the turn and ended up being 2 where it was. Just trying to chip away at it. A par five and a couple short par 4s on the front nine. Just keep hanging in there. I was hitting the ball all right. If I could somehow get myself in the right sections, I could hole a few putts. I was able to grind out a score today.”
When asked how he felt afterwards, he quickly said: “I feel hot. Actually, I feel just fine. Not a lot of guys are gonna run away with this thing today.”
What did transpire is that by days end, there was an army of talent in front of Woods on the scoreboard.
Gary Woodland led the pack with 64, Rickie Fowler was a shot back. Zach Johnson and Brandon Stone were in at 66. Jason Day and Dustin Johnson were two of the 11 players at three-under.
Another 16 were two-under including Open champion Francesco Molinari and Jon Rahm. Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood and U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka were three of 15 at 69.
Woods had a dozen other players with him at even par.
Good news is that Woods kept himself relevant. He could have easily been staring at 74.