Tiger Woods' right hand came flying off the handle of the golf club. The ball kept diving left. "Get in the bunker!" he barked, tracking the ball's errant flight from the 14th tee. "Get in. Get in." It did.
Even the rankest golfer knows a ball never listens, but considering how out of control everything else in Woods' life must seem at times, he'll take whatever he can get.
Woods came into this PGA Championship off his worst performance ever as a pro. The consensus after his debacle at Firestone last week he finished 18-over par and next to last was that his golf game had collapsed. If so, he was in remarkably good spirits early on Thursday morning, when fog pushed back the start of the tournament by three hours.
Playing a math game on his phone to kill time, Woods showed it to a reporter standing nearby and asked, "Are you good with numbers?" "You shot 298 last week," came the reply. "I have to be." Woods broke into a wide grin, then said something that can't be repeated here. He was in a slightly less playful mood by day's end, after an up-and-down round of 1-under 71 left him three shots off the early lead.
Afterward, someone asked "Going from shooting 75 last week to ..."
Woods cut him off.
"Welcome to golf. It is what it is. Guys shoot 59 and don't win," he said. "Fickle game."
Someone else pointed out that Woods ranked first on the tour in getting the ball closest to the hole from the fairway, but last when he has to play a shot from the rough. The question was barely finished before Woods jumped in again.
"Well," he said, "probably because I was I've been in the fairway twice per day. So there you go."
He was in the fairway a lot more than that in the first round. Starting off the 10th tee, he hit the first three fairways he faced and made birdie from each one. As he walked onto the tee at No. 14, a fan yelled, "Hey Tiger, where's the after-party?" It might be coincidence that Woods pulled his next tee shot into that bunker off the left side, but reminders of the scandal that Woods set in motion by pin-balling down the driveway of his Florida mansion last November are still everywhere. An hour drive to the south in Milwaukee, porn star Joslyn James, who bills herself as "Tiger's mistress," was "performing" at the Silk Exotic Gentlemen's Club wearing a green Masters-style jacket. She's been following him around the country.
Unlike last week, Woods was clearly in full competitive mode here. He stabbed a short iron shot from the bunker at the 14th to within six feet of the flag, then calmly watched it spin back another 30 feet before a routine two-putt par. He finished his first nine at 2 under, then made bogeys at Nos. 2 and 7. An 8-foot birdie putt on the final hole put him back in the red.
"It would have been very disappointing and frustrating to end up at even par as well as I played today," Woods said. "That was the goal today. Got off to a quick start and all of a sudden, I felt like I could shoot something in the 60s. Didn't quite happen," he added.
Woods said earlier this week that as far as his golf game is concerned, he expected to hit the skids at the start of the season. Instead, he got off to a fast start at the Masters with a tie for fourth. Ever since, he has been battling rough patches, especially with the putter. If nothing else, it's made him more likely to focus on the small victories, such as when that tee shot on 14 found a bunker instead of the treacherous fescue grass all around it. The last question Woods faced Thursday was about whether the delay affected him. Given the state of things, most expected he used the extra time to shoehorn in some more practice. "I got to eat three breakfasts," Woods said, the wide grin returning, "so that's always good."