When Tiger Woods announced his PGA Tour return, one of the things he made sure to note was how much rust there would be after nearly four months off.
Tiger's first round at the 2014 Quicken Loans National confirmed that, as he posted a three-over-par 74. His day started on the back nine with back-to-back bogeys but ended on a positive note with three birdies on the front nine, including two straight on his 16th and 17th holes of the day.
Getting back on the course was a huge step in the right direction for Tiger. It's not a round he will put on his highlight reel, but as Jason Sobel of Golf Channel pointed out, things could have been a lot worse:
Tiger Woods posts seven bogeys in his return, but all things considered, 3-over 74 really isn't too bad on a tough day at Congressional.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) June 26, 2014
Even though he finished well, Sobel noted there was a moment later in his round where the 14-time major champion trailed everyone on the course:
Of 60 players on the course, Tiger Woods in last place. On the bright side, he should be able to catch the second half of the soccer game.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) June 26, 2014
Given Tiger's fierce competitive streak, you would think three over par would have him fuming. However, that turned out not to be the case, at least in the post-round press conference, via Andrew Mollenbeck of WTOP Radio:
Tiger Woods: I played a lot better than the score indicates. He shoots a +3 in his first round back. pic.twitter.com/F4ZaB1wEUR— mollenbeckWTOP (@mollenbeckWTOP) June 26, 2014
What was so interesting about watching Tiger's round Thursday is how similar it looked to the last time we saw him in a PGA event. In the final round of the Cadillac Championship on March 9, he shot a 78 to finish five over par.
Unless things get drastically better for Tiger on Friday, this will be his worst career showing following a long hiatus, according to Golf Central:
Tiger Woods' results after returning to the PGA TOUR from an extended break. pic.twitter.com/dy0chZcXfj— Golf Central (@GolfCentral) June 26, 2014
The cut line won't come into focus until Friday, but based on where Tiger is sitting right now compared to everyone who was on the course at the same time, he's likely not going to be playing this weekend.
Tiger is no stranger to injuries, winning the 2008 U.S. Open with a torn ACL and a stress fracture in his left leg, but he wasn't 38 years old then. No one will deny the athleticism he's had, but eventually time takes its toll, and things you used to be capable of aren't possible anymore.
Per Barry Svrluga of The Washington Post, Woods said after a practice session at Congressional Country Club on Wednesday that physically everything felt fine, but he still wasn't striking the ball consistently:
I hit some loose shots today. I also hit some really good ones. Back feels good, which is nice, which is a really good sign. ...
... I went for it today, just to test it and make sure, and made some pretty good ones, too. ... It was a little bit rusty. I've got to knock off some rust and really manage my way around this golf course.
That pattern held true Thursday. Tiger shot a four-over 39 on his first nine holes and then started out two-over on the final nine before rebounding with three birdies in the last six holes to save face.
Tiger Woods' first-round performance was...
Then again, maybe there is something to be said for the course. Tiger's group featured Jordan Spieth and Jason Day, both ranked in the top 10 of the World Golf Rankings. Spieth finished with the same score as Tiger, while Day was just one shot better.
Tiger said earlier this week, via Farrell Evans of ESPN.com, that he likely wouldn't have played in this event if his foundation wasn't sponsoring it and that the "goal was the British Open." Thus, as long as expectations are kept in check, this weekend can be a success for him by virtue of simply returning.
Of course, where Tiger is concerned, the expectations are never going to be realistic because he's set such a high bar. You can even see the optimism growing based on how he finished the first round. The real test becomes how his back holds up overnight and through the second round.
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