Tiger Woods at British Open 2014: Grading Day 1 Performance at Royal Liverpool

Ben Alberstadt@benalberstadtFeatured ColumnistJuly 17, 2014

Tiger Woods at British Open 2014: Grading Day 1 Performance at Royal Liverpool

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    Tiger Woods was two over par after two holes and looked to be on his way to a mess of an opening round. However, a tidy birdie at the fifth hole, and solid play for the rest of the front nine, positioned him at one over as he made the turn. 

    Having hit six of seven fairways on the front nine and seven of nine greens, Woods was poised to take advantage of the three back-nine par fives.

    The critical moment of the day came when he poured in a 25-footer from the fringe at the 11th for birdie to jump-start his round. He then made back-to-back birdies at 12 and 13, and another pair at 15 and 16.

    In his first round of his first major of 2014, Tiger Woods carded a three-under 69. As Reid Cherner of USA Today wrote, "The vintage Woods showed up at Royal Liverpool where he's already won a British Open."

    Obviously, positioning one's self in a tie for eighth at the end of the first round is a good thing. But how were the various facets of Tiger Woods' golf game functioning in the first round at Hoylake? And just how good was the "good thing"?

Driving: A

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    Tiger only hit his driver once at Hoylake during the first round. Woods pulled the big stick out at the 577-yard par-five 16th hole, the same hole where he hit his sole driver in 2006. 

    Woods wasn't happy with the strike, cursing to himself as he watched the ball fly away. Still, it found the fairway. Even if it didn't end up where he wanted, a drive that finds the fairway and leads to birdie is tough to be mad about. 

    Taking woods and irons off the rest of the holes, Tiger hit 10 of 14 fairways on the day (71 percent). He really only hit one poor tee shot—a duck-hoot at the 14th—and his other three misses were largely cases of balls running through the fairway.

Iron Play: B+

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    Woods hit 14 of 18 greens in regulation on the day (78 percent). 

    After fluffing his initial approach shot at the first hole and finding a bunker, Woods was dialed in for the rest of his round. 

    Woods hit several pure approaches, particularly in the stretch between 11 and 17. On the 12th and 13th holes, the 2006 Open champion hit his approaches to inside of 10 feet and made birdies.

    If there was any rust in Woods' game during the first round, it wasn't evident in his iron play, which was solid all day long. When he was off, it was only by a yard or two, and his distance control was excellent after the opening hole. 

Around the Greens: B

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    Around the greens, Tiger Woods was largely very good.

    Facing an impossible lie in the bunker at the first, Woods did all he could to get the ball out. At the fourth hole, after running his approach through the back of the green, Woods hit a very poor shot and left himself eight feet for par. 

    At the 11th, Woods holed a brilliant Texas-wedge-style putt from the fringe for a birdie. He took his medicine at the 14th hole and pitched to 20 feet as he had no shot at getting it close. At the 16th, Woods played a delicate pitch to tap-in range for a birdie.

    Finally, on the 18th hole, Woods contorted himself in a green-side bunker and did well just to get the ball out and hold the green. 

    Looking ahead, if Tiger manages the course the way he wants to, he won't end up in bad bunker situations as he did at the first and 18th holes today. Hoylake's bunkers are not as deep and penal as many on the courses of the Open rota are. So it was surprising to see impossible lies both times he found himself in a bunker.

    Woods certainly knows that he was a little loose with a few pitches and will therefore focus the majority of his post-round practice on that area of his game. Thus, his grade in the category should improve going forward. 

Putting: B+

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    For the day, Woods had a few untidy putts but some excellent strokes as well. The volume of his birdie makes outweighed the few poor efforts.

    He badly blocked a short putt at the second for a bogey and didn't have the speed right a couple of times early in the round. 

    However, Woods holed a critical six-footer at the first hole to avoid a double bogey, which could have sunk his round. He made a clutch seven-footer at the fourth hole for par and claimed his first birdie at the fifth when he holed a 12-footer. He also holed consecutive birdie putts at the 12th and 13th holes. 

    He was just slightly off on most of his misses, such as his lip-out of a 25-footer for birdie at the 17th. 

    Woods used a total of 28 putts for the day. 

Course Management: B+

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    Woods employed a similar strategy to his winning tactics of '06: irons and fairway woods off the tee. Indeed, he only hit his driver once for the round.

    While he was a little more aggressive into greens, he made few unforced errors. Most notably, he tried to force an iron close at the fourth hole and it ran through the back of the green. And at the 18th, he elected to step on a wood from 280-plus yards away and found a bunker short of the green. Had he taken an iron and landed the ball well short of the green, he wouldn't have faced the impossible bunker shot that greeted him, and birdie may have been in the equation. 

    Woods wisely took what he was given at the first hole, blasting out of a bunker rather than trying to get cute and leaving his ball in the trap. Likewise, at the 14th, he played a pitch away from the pin to leave himself a putt rather than attempt a hero shot at the flag and risk a shot that could run through the green. 

    His decision to use his putter from the fringe at the 11th was also a prudent one, as it led to birdie, and he generally stuck to a plan of favoring the appropriate side of the fairway for approach shots (left side for flags on the right, etc.).

    Overall, Woods was tactical, as would be expected from the man who outsmarted the field at this course in 2006. 

Final Grade: A

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    At the end of his opening-round 69, Woods finds himself three strokes out of the lead. Considering his lengthy layoff and the fact that this is his second tournament (and first major) since significant back surgery, his performance was impressive. 

    While he looked a tad rusty on a few short shots, Tiger's play from tee to green was largely excellent, as was his putting. He managed his way around the course in solid fashion as well. 

    Overall, Woods looked smooth and in control, getting better as the round went on. Under the circumstances, it's difficult not give T.W. an "A" for the day. 

    And how did Tiger feel about his performance? Pretty good. But he knows he can do better.

    "I knew I could do it. That's why I was telling you guys it was so important for me to play at Congressional," Woods said in a post-round press conference. "The fact that I was able to recover every day, and the fact that I was strong, more explosive the more days I played. ... I'm only going to get better from that point."

    If he does indeed "get better" this week, Woods could be holding the Claret Jug Sunday.