Congressional Country Club was not in a very giving mood on Thursday. The best that the Quicken Loans National field could do was Aussie Greg Chalmers’ 5-under 66. He was followed by Ricky Barnes’ and Freddie Jacobson’s 4-under 67. And there were four at 3-under: Patrick Reed, Erik Compton, Bill Haas and Tyrone Van Aswegen.
But the principle sideshow was how did Tiger do? Did he hurt himself? Was he able to score with all that rust? Even though it’s not true, it still had the feel of him just getting out of the doctor’s care and anything could happen.
He shot 74 and thought it went well. Starting on the back nine, he made two quick bogeys, bounced back with a birdie on 14 and gave it back on 15…and then bogeyed 17 and 18 to make the turn at 4-over. He bogeyed 2 and 3 to go to 6-over and the finished with a flourish with birdies on 4, 7 and 8:
“The score is not really indicative of how I played. I had four up-and-downs right there on 15 through 18. Had an easy pick on two, don’t get that up-and-down. Had a wedge in my hand on 3 and I jerk it in the bunker. I made so many little mistakes. So I played a lot better than the score indicated, which is good.”
And letting the driver fly was not an issue:
“I drove it great. I felt comfortable. I fixed it yesterday, the grip change. I hit that foul ball on 18 yesterday and fixed it and piped it all the way through. Basically that’s what I was trying to work on all day today, same thing. Make sure I got into proper position and make sure I just hit.”
And there were no issues with his back:
“The back’s great. I had no issues at all. No twinges, no nothing. It felt fantastic. That’s one of the reasons why I let go on those tee shots. I hit it pretty hard out there.”
What was interesting was that there was a stark difference between just being home playing and playing in a tournament:
“I think the hard part was just getting into the rhythm of playing competitively. You play with your buddies all day for cash and stuff but it’s just not the same. It’s not the same as tournament golf, different level. Adrenaline is rushing and I hit the ball further out here than I do at home. Try to get the numbers, try to get the feels. Didn’t start happening until mid way through my front nine. It unfortunately took a while to get the feel for it. You saw the putt I hit on 11 was awful. I left it ten, 12 feet short. My feels were off.”
Even though his scorecard looked like the lights finally came on on his last three holes, in fact, things began to come together as he stumbled through his early mistakes:
“Just as I played, just the more I played, the more I felt comfortable about shot selections, my sight lines, all different things, and playing — as I said, tournament golf, got the adrenaline going, hit the ball a little further, try to hit my numbers and then the wind crops up a little bit. Trying to get a feel for that and all the different things — if you play all the time, it’s second nature.”
“But I’ve been off for a while, and I’ve been held back where I just haven’t been able to let it go. Now I’m able to start doing that, try to get my numbers again. That’s always been the challenge.”
And to no one’s surprise, it was really great to come back to the Tour:
“It really is. It’s nice to get back out here playing again. I unfortunately have been in my career on the sidelines enough, so it’s always fun to come back out here and play against these guys, the best players in the world, and to get out here and see what I can do. This golf course is playing tough. It’s not too often that 4-under [at the time] is leading. That’s indicative of how difficult it is out there.”
He’ll be off the 1st tee at 1:12 in the afternoon wave Friday with Jason Day (+2) and Jordan Spieth (+3). So we’ll get a chance to see how he makes his way around with all the stuff that’s been going on, balanced by a pretty good learning day on Thursday.