Another sluggish start for Tiger Woods

October 6, 2011 - 8:10 PM
Frys Open Golf

Tiger Woods tees off on the par-3 third hole at the first round of the Frys.Com Open PGA golf tournament on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011, in San Martin, Calif. (AP Photo/Dino Vournas)

SAN MARTIN, Calif. (AP) — Tiger Woods returned from a seven-week break and not much has changed.

Woods went 13 holes between his two birdies Thursday in the Frys.com Open and had to work hard for a 2-over 73. That left him in danger of missing the cut in consecutive starts for the first time in his career.

Woods had not played since missing the cut at the PGA Championship in August. He said the time off at least gave him time to practice and figure out his swing changes, and he was playing 36 holes a day at home in Florida.

On a cool, rainy day at CordeValle, it was a different story.

He was outplayed in his group by UCLA sophomore Patrick Cantlay, who had a 69.

Texas Open winner Brendan Steele was among three players tied for lead at 4-under 67.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

SAN MARTIN, Calif. (AP) — No matter how Tiger Woods plays in the Frys.com Open, it won't be from a lack of practice.

Woods will have gone seven weeks since his last tournament when he tees off Thursday afternoon at CordeValle. This is the first time in more than a year that he'll compete on a golf course he's never seen. Those two elements add to the mystery of what to expect.

As for the process of changing his swing?

Woods eliminated that as an excuse Wednesday when he said, "The major overhauls are done."

"I've done all that work," Woods said. "Now it's just fine tuning."

For a guy who essentially has been out of work for nearly two months, Woods said he has been working overtime. When last seen at a golf tournament, he missed the cut at the PGA Championship for only the third time in a major and did not qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs.

It wasn't a complete loss.

Along with missing the bulk of the summer while letting injuries to his left leg fully heal, Woods has lamented the lack of practice. Right when he was starting to understand his new swing with coach Sean Foley, he hurt his left leg while hitting a shot from the pine straw on the 17th hole of the third round at the Masters.

"And then after that, I was kind of shot for a while," he said.

He couldn't practice hardly at all between the Masters in April and withdrawing from The Players Championship after nine holes in May. Then he took three months off, and when his doctors gave him full clearance to practice, it was time for the Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship, six rounds of not very memorable golf.

And now?

There was one occasion during his pro-am round when he asked Foley to videotape his swing. On another shot, he couldn't figure out why the flight of his tee shot started out as a cut and then hooked back to the left.

Otherwise, Woods feels as though he's back to the simple part of golf: Step up and hit it.

"I don't need to worry about whether I have the club here or here or here or here or here," he said. "I've done all that legwork, and now it's time to play. And that's where I needed to get to, which I hadn't been able to because I wasn't healthy enough to get there. And that part was frustrating, because I know what I can do in the game, and I just needed the time to practice.

"And that's why I'm so excited about being here and playing."

It's a transition he might not ever have expected, going from a major championship to a Fall Series event, with a seven-week break in between. The Fall Series was designed to give most players a chance to secure their PGA Tour cards for next year, and the field is loaded with such players.

There are only six players from the top 50 on the money list, and 26 from the top 100. Rory Sabbatini at No. 27 is the highest-ranked player from the PGA Tour money list. And then there is Woods, who is No. 118 after having entered only eight PGA Tour events and going the distance in five of them.

He no longer is among the top 50 in the world ranking for the first time since he was a 20-year-old rookie in 1996, having slipped to No. 51 this week. Yet he is such a powerful draw that ticket sales are five times ahead of last year. The Frys.com Open is close to selling out, unusual for a Fall Series event, and even some tournaments in the regular part of the season.

Then again, Woods doesn't make regular stops in northern California. He was at Pebble Beach for the U.S. Open last year and Harding Park for the Presidents Cup in 2009. Before that, it had been four years — Harding Park for a World Golf Championship.

As for his comebacks, they are getting hard to count.

Woods returned from a sex scandal at the 2010 Masters after being off for five months. He returned after a three-month break to the Bridgestone Invitational this year. This one has lasted about two months.

"This is different," Woods said. "I've had a chance to prepare, and then obviously after this event, I've got a few more weeks before I play in the Aussie Open. So that's more how I'd like to prepare and practice and play in events. So I'm getting back to my normal routine."

The question is whether he can get back to normal results.

His expectations haven't changed — "Getting a W," he said — although he hasn't won on the PGA Tour since the 2009 BMW Invitational, and hasn't won anywhere since the Australian Masters on Nov. 15, 2009.

And even though he has been playing well at home — Woods said he "left a few shots out there" when he had his 62 — it's different when a scorecard is in his pocket and thousands of fans are lining the fairways.

He will play the opening two rounds with UCLA sophomore Patrick Cantlay, the low amateur at the U.S. Open who shot a 60 at the Travelers Championship a week later and was leading going into the weekend.

Cantlay at least met Woods on Tuesday when they played together in an outing at The Institute, the course where Fry's Electronics wants to eventually take its tournament.

"He was real cordial and real nice, and we joked around a little bit out there and had a good time," Cantlay said.

Who won?

"I didn't keep my score," Cantlay said. "I was just an amateur. I picked up when I was out of the hole."