World No. 1 Tiger Woods hasn’t won a major since his last U.S. Open victory in 2008, and he didn’t get off to a particularly good start to his opening round at Merion Golf Club Thursday, turning in a two-over card through 10 holes before darkness ended the round prematurely.
Woods couldn’t get much momentum going, bogeying holes No. 1 and 3. He did birdie the par-five second with a few terrific shots, but it probably wasn’t the start the 37-year-old was looking for.
After parring No. 4, Woods sent his tee shot into the right rough at the par-four fifth and faced a difficult lie in Merion’s thick second cut. His following shot would provide one of the most noteworthy—though perhaps overhyped—events of his first round.
As ESPN’s Bob Harig and Yahoo! Sports’ Shane Bacon noted on Twitter, Woods winced and squeezed his left hand following that shot, prompting an outpouring of comments regarding a potential wrist injury:
The horns sounded for another weather delay before Woods could finish the hole, but he faced a short bogey putt for a potential two-over start at that point, as noted by GC Tiger Tracker on Twitter:
Woods knocked down the slippery putt with confidence when play resumed, but his issues didn’t go away.
Nothing was working for Woods on Day 1. Despite playing some tremendous golf this season, he looked out of sorts at Merion, never able to string together consecutive good shots.
With extremely tight fairways and precarious pin placement, precision was absolutely crucial for every golfer on Day 1. Woods didn’t have it through five holes, and his score suffered as a result.
Woods’ short game wasn’t on prior to the mid-round delay, but his putting started coming around following the break.
At No. 6, Tiger faced a long birdie putt to get one back, and he took full advantage of the opportunity by knocking it down from distance, as noted by the PGA Tour’s Twitter feed:
The world No. 1 went on to par the following two holes, and while he certainly didn’t play either hole perfectly, Woods did appear to have settled in. As it turned out, the weather delay was exactly what he needed.
But at the par-three ninth, Woods killed whatever momentum he had established with a bogey four—a result of a tee shot that landed in the first cut off the right side of the green.
Facing a birdie putt and a chance to get one back from par at No. 10, Woods’ opening-round woes continued without missing a beat. As noted by Darren L. Sands, the U.S. Open frontrunner missed another big opportunity with a blown birdie chance from short range:
Play was halted before Woods could attempt his par putt at No. 11, but the damage had already been done. Through 10-plus holes, the world’s best looked relatively average.
The biggest story entering Friday will be the health of Tiger’s wrist, however. As Tim May noted, Woods’ left wrist continued to bother him throughout his opening round:
He won’t have much time to let it rest, however. With play pushed back almost five hours courtesy of two weather delays, the world’s top three golfers will be back on the course early Friday morning, as pointed out by ESPN:
Woods doesn’t face an insurmountable lead when he returns to the tee Friday, but he does have a lot of questions to answer. Following a particularly poor showing two weeks ago at the Memorial Tournament (tied for 65th), his recent struggles are a foreboding sign that things could continue to get worse for the world No. 1.