DUBLIN, Ohio | Tiger Woods stuck with a swing that wasn’t working and settled into a long week at the Memorial.
And maybe a long year.
Woods had to scramble on the front nine to salvage a 1-over 73 in the opening round Thursday at Muirfield Village, a strong fight and reasonable score though still nowhere near the four-way tie for the lead among the early starters.
Harris English, Ryan Moore, Ken Duke and Brendon Todd each had a 67. The large group at 68 included Jordan Spieth, who saved the start of his round with a world-class short game and then made one big mistake that turned a birdie into a bogey late in his round.
Woods, playing for only the second time since his return at the Masters, was all over the course where he has won five times.
He made bogey on his opening hole of a PGA Tour event for the eighth time in his past nine events. He blocked a tee shot so far right on the 18th that it went out of bounds, and then hit a duck-hook with a 3-wood on the first hole and scrambled for par.
Woods, at age 39, is making more changes to his swing and was sticking to them regardless of the scores on his card.
“I was just trying to stay committed to what we’re working on, to what we’re doing,” he said. “I hit it awful, yeah. So what? I was going to go through this phase and stick with it, keep sticking with it. And some of the shots I hit were really, really good. But then I also had some really bad shots, too. And we need to work on that.”
And he did, heading to the practice range to pound drivers.
With an overcast sky, relatively soft conditions and not much wind, Muirfield Village was ripe for good scoring.
English, at No. 70 in the world and in dire need of a big week to avoid U.S. Open qualifying on Monday, bogeyed two of his opening three holes and that was the end of his mistakes. He ran off three straight birdies on the back nine.
Moore did his damage early with a hybrid into 5 feet for eagle on the par-5 fifth hole, followed by a pair of birdies. Duke and Todd each plodded their way around. No one went too low, but plenty were right there.
Francesco Molinari, Keegan Bradley and Justin Rose joined Spieth in the group at 68.
Justin Thomas and Patrick Rodgers, roommates in south Florida and this week (along with Spieth), were in the group at 69. Rodgers was at Muirfield Village last year to accept the Jack Nicklaus Award as the best player in college.
Now he’s playing and has a reasonable chance of doing well enough to earn unlimited exemptions the rest of the year in a bid to earn his card next year.
Woods grabbed the most attention for two reasons. He’s Tiger Woods, still enough to attract the biggest gallery. And there remains a mystery about the game of a 79-time PGA Tour winner who has plunged to No. 172 in the world.
Woods has worked with Chris Como since last November, and said they implemented more changes since The Players.
Most intriguing about his assessment of Thursday’s round was a stubbornness to see the changes to a conclusion, no matter how long that takes.
Como is the fourth instructor he has used as a pro, and this would be his fifth swing change (two under Butch Harmon). Previous changes have taken as long as 18 months for Woods to figure it out. Time is no longer on his side, however, not at his age and with five surgeries behind him.
“I’ve gone through phases like this, rounds like this, where yeah, it’s easy to revert back and go ahead and hit some old pattern,” he said. “But it doesn’t do you any good going forward. And I’ve done it. Sometimes it’s taken me about a year and then it kicked in and I did pretty good after that. … If you believe in it, do it. And eventually it will start turning.
“And when it turns, I’ve had periods where I’ve played good for four or five years, where I’ve won close to 20 tournaments in that stretch.”
The competition has never been stronger, starting with the 21-year-old Spieth.
The Masters champion salvaged his round early. He didn’t hit a fairway or a green until his fifth hole, yet he saved par each time, including a tough wedge with his back against a tree from 50 yards out to 7 feet to save par.
He was tied for the lead when he played hybrid for his second shot to the par-5 seventh, even though he felt the wind shift. Spieth misplayed a tough wedge into a bunker and wound up making bogey.
“Kind of a tough finish to swallow after such a great round of golf,” Spieth said. “But I’m still in good position after day one.”
Woods could have been a lot worse off except for a bogey-free front nine with three birdies. It was hard work for one day, not to lead but to hang on.
“Physically, I feel good. Mentally, I feel beat up,” Woods said. “To turn that round around like I did today … that was hard.”