PALM HARBOR, Fla. — There’s nothing quite like seeing Tiger Woods wincing in pain, especially after all of the injury woes he has endured over the years.
So there was Woods banging his club up against a tree on the 16th hole late Thursday afternoon at the Innisbrook Resort and then showing signs of distress after letting the club go and seeing the ball fly toward the green.
Woods said afterward it was his left forearm that took the brunt of the blow, and he downplayed any injury, although few would be surprised if a bit of ice were necessary overnight.
There was certainly plenty of cold for Woods and the other competitors to deal with during the opening round of the Valspar Championship, and Woods came out of it just fine, shooting a 1-under-par 70 in blustery conditions to stand just 3 strokes back of first-year PGA Tour player Corey Conners.
“I enjoy when par is a good score, it’s a reward,” said Woods, who is tied for eighth and trails just seven players at a tournament he is playing for the first time. “There are some tournaments when (after) about four holes you don’t make a birdie and you feel like you’re behind. Today, made a couple of birdies, all of a sudden that puts me fourth, fifth right away. That’s how hard it is. It’s the reward to go out there and make a couple birdies here and there and I like that type of challenge.”
Conners managed just fine, taking advantage of the chance to compete a tournament he wasn’t sure he would be playing. He went through Monday qualifying and shot 71, but moments after walking off the course, he was told he got in as an alternate.
“Kind of had a mindset of trying to take advantage of a good break, I guess,” he said.
Woods made five birdies and four bogeys over the par-71 course, including a 5-iron to a few feet at the par-3 17th to join just 26 other players under par on the Copperhead course. Along the way, he hit 7 of 13 fairways, 9 of 18 greens and needed 25 putts.
Woods said the wind played tricks with the group all day. An example came at the par-3 fourth, which was playing about 190 yards. Woods launched a tee shot that flew over the green — “they never even saw it,” he said — and landed some 220 yards from where he hit it. From there, he had an awkward stance near a tree and was fortunate to make a bogey.
Starting at the par-3 eighth, Woods went birdie-bogey-birdie-birdie to get to 2 under par and within 2 strokes of the lead. But he made back-to-back bogeys at the 12th and 13th before playing the remaining five holes in 1 under.
“I feel like I’m pleased with every aspect of my game,” he said. “I drove it well, I hit a lot of good iron shots today and had some good speed on the putts. I thought I really did well today overall.”
This is just Woods’ fourth event of 2018 following spinal fusion surgery nearly 11 months ago. He tied for 23rd at the Farmers Insurance Open, missed the cut at the Genesis Open, was 12th two weeks ago at the Honda Classic and also plans to play next week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational.
“This was the hardest of all the tests because the wind was all over the place,” he said. “You just couldn’t … (caddie) Joey (LaCava) and I really had a hard time today figuring out what to hit, what the trajectory is, am I going to hit it above the tree or around the tree height? Those are all different distances the ball travels.”
The good news for Woods is that it was that kind of struggle for just about everyone.
And he should get a bit of a break from it with a second-round tee time with Spieth and Stenson that begins at 7:58 a.m.
As for that possible injury, Woods was more concerned about breaking his club and possibly injuring someone. He managed to get the shot up near the green and then got it up and down for par.
“My forearm hit the tree a little bit,” he said. “I tried to warn all the people there because if I pulled back on that at all and tried to really use my hands and flight that ball down and if that club catches and breaks, it’s going to be right over there. I was worried about that. … But I pulled it off.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.