Tiger Woods at PGA Championship 2014: Grading Day 1 Performance at Valhalla

Ben Alberstadt@benalberstadtFeatured ColumnistAugust 7, 2014

Tiger Woods at PGA Championship 2014: Grading Day 1 Performance at Valhalla

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    Until early afternoon Wednesday, we didn't know if Tiger Woods was even going to show up at the 2014 PGA Championship

    After an opening-round three-over 74, it's questionable whether he'll be around to play the weekend, as he was nine shots out of the lead when he signed his scorecard. 

    Woods was pain-free the day before the tournament, and he said as much repeatedly. Did that trend continue during his first round? Oh, and since he came to the Kentucky course to play golf, how did he perform off Valhalla's tees and on its greens?

    According to Woods himself: "It wasn't very good...A lot of bad shots, and I never got a putt to the hole" (per Doug Ferguson of The Associated Press).

    We'll take a look at several aspects of Woods' play during the first round—his driving, his iron play, his play around the greens, his putting and his apparent level of physical comfort—before assigning him a final grade. 

    A metric: A "C" grade indicates Tiger played about how we expected a pain-free Tiger to play. A "B" is slightly better, a "D" slightly worse and so on. 

    Read on for Tiger Woods' first-round grades.

Driving: C+

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    Tiger Woods pulled his opening tee shot left of the fairway at Valhalla's 10th hole. For the remainder of the back nine (his front nine), though, Woods was solid off the tee, hitting five of seven fairways with a combination of driver, fairways woods and irons.

    The story was a different one once Woods made the turn. On the first hole (his 10th), he badly pull-hooked his tee shot, which led to a bogey. Likewise on the second hole, he pulled his tee shot with a fairway wood well left and into a water hazard, which also led to a bogey.

    He missed the fairway badly again on the seventh hole before finding the fairway at the eighth and ninth holes.

    As Jeff Rude of Golfweek wrote of the stretch: "This is a two-way miss. Driver, about 50 yards left and into a hazard on No. 1. Three-wood, about 50 yards left and into a hazard on No. 2. Driver, about 50 yards right and over a green fence and into the Samsung Phone Zone on No. 7." 

    For the day, Tiger hit eight of 14 fairways (57.14 percent). Nine strokes out of the lead when he finished his round, he will need to be much more accurate off the tee Friday and approach shots from the appropriate side of the fairway into greens to set up birdie putts. 

Iron Play: C-

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    Tiger Woods' errant tee shot at the 14th hole is a fitting summation of his iron play during Thursday's first round. 

    Starting on the back nine, Woods struck poor approach shots to the par-three 11th and 14th holes that led to bogeys. He overdid a cut at the 11th and hit the pull hook mentioned above at the 14th. Any time a player is missing par-three greens badly both left and right, it's not a good sign.

    In Woods' case, he didn't look comfortable with his club selections, and it's likely not having played a practice round at the course contributed to that feeling. 

    For the round, Woods hit 10 of 18 greens in regulation (52.94 percent). He had issues with distance control all day, and his lone birdie came as a result of an iron approach that came up short on the 16th hole. There, he came up 30 yards short and holed the pitch shot for a three. 

    Woods hit few quality iron shots for the day and showed the expected signs of rust. When he found greens with his irons, he was often well outside of birdie range, such as ninth hole (his final hole of the day). There, he had a middle iron into a very accessible pin.

    His approach, although cleanly struck, finished on the wrong side of the slope, more than 30 feet from the hole.  


Around the Greens: C

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    As was the case at the Open Championship, Woods showed signs of rust around the greens during his first round at Valhalla. 

    As mentioned in an earlier slide, Woods' lone birdie came at the 16th hole where he holed a 34-yard pitch shot.

    However, the birdie pitch was far from representative of Woods' play around the greens during the first round. He was routinely well short on pitch shots, such as his effort at the sixth hole. There, from 56 feet from the pin, he barely managed to get his ball inside of 20 feet with his pitch. (Fortunately, he made the putt for par.)

    It hasn't been a good year for Woods in the scrambling department. Tiger has saved par just 54.3 percent of the time when missing the green with his approach shot this year, which is well off his 60 percent rate last year. For comparison's sake, in 2008, the last year Woods won a major, his scrambling percentage was 68.9 percent.

    It's clear that Woods' touch around the greens has been a casualty in this injury-plagued season. This was again apparent during the first round at Valhalla.   

Putting: C

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    Tiger Woods' opening birdie effort foreshadowed how he would putt for the entirety of the first round at Valhalla. 

    There, from 21 feet, Woods' birdie putt came up one roll short, and he tapped in for par. He didn't make a birdie putt all day and never got the combination of line and speed right. 

    At the fourth hole, for example, Woods boldly took the driver off the tee on the short par four. The approach paid off when he found the fairway and had just 70 yards to the hole. His approach ended up 13 feet from the cup. 

    Standing over the 13-footer, Woods seemed determined to make it. Surely the Tiger of old, who dominated at Valhalla in 2001, would have made it. Instead, this Woods hit the putt he wanted to but misread the green and his Nike One rolled past the right edge of the cup.

    He did, however, make two clutch putts on the day: an 18-footer at the sixth hole to save par and an 11-footer at the second hole to salvage bogey after an out-of-bounds tee shot. 

    For the round, Woods lost .83 strokes to the field with his putter.

Physical Comfort: A

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    Tiger Woods didn't appear in pain at any point during his first round. He made it around Valhalla's 18 holes with playing partners Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington showing no signs of the dislodged sacrum and resulting muscle spasms that forced him to withdraw from the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational Sunday. 

    The first question Thursday about his fitness was answered when he stepped on to the driving range moving briskly and made a few languid warm-up swings: The comfort he showed when arriving at Valhalla Wednesday was going to continue, at least until he was forced to hack the ball out of deep rough. 

    That moment didn't come until Woods' 10th hole of the day (Valhalla's first hole, since Woods began his round on the back nine). After this terrible drive, Tiger hacked the ball out from 178 yards without incident. 

    Through one round, Tiger Woods' back is among the least of his problems. 

Final Grade: C

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    In one sense, carding an opening 74 is a victory for Tiger Woods. Considering the shape he was in as he hobbled off the course at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, even being able to bend over to tee his ball up was a very good thing. 

    Relative to the expectations we have for the man who has recorded 14 major victories in his career, the opening round was awful. He has no realistic hope of lifting the Wanamaker trophy and will have to do well in his second round to make the cut.

    Specifically, Woods will need to adjust his speed on the greens to get the ball to the hole. We can assume, after one round, he has a better idea of break, generally, and his green reading should be improved.

    He'll want to hit two or three more fairways Friday to give himself approaches from the fairway; he needs all the looks at birdie he can get. With his irons, Woods needs to dial in his distance control and take more aggressive lines at flags as he badly needs circles on his scorecard. 

    However, mindful of Tiger's lack of play this year, limited practice recently and early departure from Firestone Sunday, the three-over score was both average and predictable.