JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) — Liberty National was never so susceptible to low scoring as it was Thursday, and Tiger Woods could feel it. He just couldn’t do much about it.
Two hours into his opening round, Woods already was eight shots behind, and the gap only got wider. When his 12-foot par putt on his final hole stayed left of the cup, Woods had a 4-over 75. It was his second-worst score in 89 rounds of the FedEx Cup playoffs, left him 13 shots behind Troy Merritt and put him in danger of missing the cut at The Northern Trust.
“It just feels frustrating to shoot anything high no matter how I feel,” Woods said. “We had the early tee time. We had the perfect greens and had to go out there shoot something under par and get it going. Had to be 4-, 5-, 6-under par today. I went the other way with it.”
Of the 60 players who played in the morning, 39 broke par. Only one player, Patrick Rodgers at 76, had a higher score than Woods.
Expectations were not as high as usual for Woods, even on a Liberty National course where he was a runner-up in his two previous appearances. This was only his third competitive round since the U.S. Open, and he felt enough stiffness in his back during the pro-am that he only chipped and putted on the back nine.
He said his back was a little stiff Thursday, but that’s becoming the new normal. There are good days and bad, and this was somewhere in between. What bothered him more was being in reasonable position off the tee on all but three holes and not being able to score.
And it was clear early that would be an issue.
He tugged a wedge into a lie so buried in the sand left of the 12th green — his third hole of the round — that he could only blast it out away from the flag. It kept rolling into a bunker on the other side, and he had to get up-and-down for bogey.
After a two-putt birdie on the 13th, his round fell apart.
Woods tried to hit a flat 9-iron on the par-3 14th, the signature hole at Liberty National with a view of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline behind her. He pulled it over the flag, over the green and into a 5-foot ditch.
Woods stood at the edge and looked down, hopeful of being able to play from there. The ball was sitting down. There was no chance.
“Even if I had a perfect lie, it would have been one of those practice round things, whereas kids we might try and play it, and hopefully wouldn’t hit ourselves,” Woods said. “But no, it was sitting down.”
He took a penalty drop and faced a flop shot to a green that ran away from him, and he left that in the high grass. That led to double bogey. Unable to reach the green from a fairway bunker on the next hole, he made another bogey. After a beautiful pitch into the slope on the short par-4 16th that left him a 6-foot birdie putt, he started walking right when he hit it, knowing the pace was too strong.
Everything about the round was flat.
“Just one of those things where I didn’t hit any good shots and didn’t make any putts,” Woods said. “Other than that, added up to a round that broke 80.”
His worst score in these playoff events since the FedEx Cup began in 2007 was a 76 in the final round of this tournament in 2012 when it was at Bethpage Black.
Woods already is on pace for his fewest tournaments in a season when healthy — for him, that means not injured — and it could get even shorter. He is No. 28 in the FedEx Cup, and with points counting quadruple the value, a missed cut means he will have to play well at Medinah next week to return to the Tour Championship, where last year he won to cap off a remarkable return following four back surgeries.
All he was thinking about Thursday was not having to go home Friday.
“I’m going to have to figure out a way to get this thing under par and hopefully move on and have a chance on the weekend to keep progressing and keep going lower,” Woods said. “But I’ve got to get into the red at the end of the day tomorrow, for sure.”
That was the objective Thursday, and it didn’t work out for him.
It’s been that way since he won the Masters, and it was like that before he won a fifth green jacket at Augusta National. Except for his victory, Woods has finished at least eight shots behind in his stroke-play events.
“No matter how much you try to will it around, it doesn’t add up to the number you want,” he said. “It’s happened before in the past. It happened today. And I’m sure it will happen again in the future — just hopefully not tomorrow.”