Tiger could've lost this Open on his first hole, but his rally turned out to be revealingBy Alan Shipnuck, Senior Writer, Sports IllustratedWoods hooked his tee shot on the first hole well left and was forced to take a drop and a penalty stroke for an unplayable lie.
GULLANE, Scotland -- Everything you need to know about Tiger Woods's opening round at the Open -- and, indeed, this curious second act to his career -- was summed up by how he played the 1st hole at Muirfield on Thursday. The top-ranked player in the world stepped to the tee of the 447-yard par-4 wielding only a five-wood but uncorked a screaming hook that disappeared into the long weeds that frame the fairway. This is of a piece with Woods's career-long 1st-tee jitters; maybe no great player in golf history has hit so many truly horrendous opening drives. Anyway, his ball was quickly encircled by fans and marshals, though a small hillock obscured Woods's view. Without further investigation he loaded up a provisional tee shot. This was a cagey veteran move, giving him a free swing to try to find a quick fix. Whether it is keeping with the spirit of the rules is a topic for another column.
Woods's second tee shot was almost as putrid as the first. Of course, that didn't matter, as his first ball had long since been located. But two swings into this Open we had already plunged back into the familiar psychodrama of Woods's inexplicable shakiness at the majors, which began in August 2009 (see Yang, Y.E.) and has defined the post-hydrant era. This year, Woods was a heavy favorite going into both the Masters and the U.S. Open, but he failed to summon his best golf at either. Pressed for an explanation on the eve of this British Open, he said, "It's just a shot here and there. It's not much. It could happen on the first day, it could happen on the last day. But it's turning that tide and getting the momentum at the right time or capitalizing on an opportunity. That's what you have to do to win major championships."
Woods is prone to oversimplification, a defense mechanism that keeps outsiders from breaching the fortress of his inner self. But his manifold struggles at the majors have made it plain that darker forces are at work, and this played out off the 1st fairway at Muirfield. Woods arrived at his ball -- the first, not the superfluous second -- and declared the lie to be unplayable. Fair enough, but what came next revealed just how flustered Woods must have been feeling. For his penalty drop he did not mark his position with a tee or measure any club lengths, he hurriedly dumped a ball in the rough and played on. The drop wasn't illegal, but it was cavalier. Woods has already perpetuated two epic rules cockups this season -- a bad drop in Abu Dhabi that led to a missed cut and the epic screwup that torpedoed his Masters -- to say nothing of a hurried drop at the Players Championship that set Twitter aflame. This rush job at Muirfield was a monument to Woods's stubbornness (he would never give his detractors the satisfaction of calling in a rules official to supervise) but also evidence that even a 37-year-old legend can get rattled by two bad swings.
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