Granted, Tiger Woods has been the eye of the sport since he told the world hello in 1996. However, the latest iteration of Tiger-mania ramped up every notch following the 43-year-old’s triumph at the Masters this spring. Not only was Woods “back,” his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus was, amazingly, renewed. That the first stop in this venture would be Bethpage Black, a venue where Woods won the 2002 U.S. Open, only fanned the excitement.
That excitement has slightly morphed into intrigue after Woods didn’t show up to Bethpage on Wednesday. Woods’ team said the 15-time major winner was opting for rest, and that he’ll be ready to go. Conversely, it was clear at his early-week press conference that Woods was battling a cold, and Wednesday’s absence means Tiger has not played the course since Monday (he opted for practice on Tuesday, also citing rest).
So as Woods prepares to capture Major Win No. 16, will we see the Woods that was locked in with his body and game at Augusta, or one who’s battling a bug? Woods tees off Thursday morning at 8:24 a.m. on the 10th hole, with Open champion Francesco Molinari and U.S. Open and PGA champ Brooks Koepka. Golf Digest will be here to detail Woods’ trek around Bethpage, as well as the other proceedings in Farmingdale, with our first round Live Blog.
11:45 a.m.: Brooks Koepka shows the first hint that he’s human by yanking his tee shot way left into high rough on the par-5 4th. Meanwhile, Woods smokes a tee shot down the left side of the fairway. There aren’t many birdie holes at Bethpage Black, but this is one. And Tiger is in great shape to get back to even par.
11:40 a.m.: Oof. Tiger misses a golden opportunity to make a third straight birdie on the par-3 3rd. Playing partner Brooks Koepka does not. The defending PGA champ rolls in a 13-footer to move to five under. He currently has a two-shot lead over Tommy Fleetwood and Luke List.
11:29 a.m.: Tiger will have a chance for a THIRD straight birdie with another laser iron shot. His tee shot at the 235-yard par-3 third ends up about nine feet from the hole. He’s locked in with a chance to get back to level par, despite those two double bogeys.
11:23 a.m.: Tommy Fleetwood falls out of the lead with a bogey at the par-4 sixth hole. He falls back to 3-under, one back of Brooks Koepka, who now owns sole possession of the (very early) lead once again.
Fleetwood’s not the only Englishman to tumble down the leaderboard. Matt Wallace, who was the first player to get to 4-under, has bogeyed three holes in a row to fall back to 1-under.
11:17 a.m.: Brooks Koepka just blasts his birdie putt through the break here at 2. That’ll be nothing but another par for him. Tiger, meanwhile, taps in his birdie to get back to 1-over par. That’s his second consecutive birdie. That’s a big bounce-back from those two double bogeys on his front nine. This is an action-packed opening round for Tiger as he heads to the par-3 third hole now back within earshot of the lead.
Luke List is making a big move on his opening nine. He has four birdies, along with one bogey, on his first nine (the front). List has yet to factor in a major (and he’s still looking for his first tour win), but he’s got the game to compete at brawny Bethpage.
11:11 a.m.: After a long wait on the second tee, Tiger Woods hits a tight draw with his fairway wood to find the fairway. His second shot is a PERFECT shot, with just enough distance to clear the front bunker, to end up about four feet from the hole. The birdie to start his second nine was a big start—he’ll have a couple more opportunities here on this front nine, including a great one here at No. 2, as the front nine has played easier than the back so far this morning.
Koepka also finds the fairway and hits another stellar approach hole-high. He’ll have about 14 feet for another birdie.
11:05 a.m.: Brooks Koepka now has company atop the leaderboard, as Tommy Fleetwood has added his fifth birdie of the day—and third within four holes—to grab a share of the lead at 4-under.
The Englishman bogeyed the 10th hole to open his round but has clawed back nicely.
We have Koepka and Fleetwood atop a leaderboard at a major in Long Island. Sound familiar to anyone?
11:01 a.m.: Tiger takes advantage of the strong approach shot and buries the birdie putt at the first hole. That’s his second birdie of the day (birdied 15), and he gets back to 2-over. That’s now six shots back of Brooks Koepka, who converts on the putt inside five feet for his fourth birdie of the day.
Koepka is the solo leader now, one shot better than Tommy Fleetwood and Chez Reavie (-3). Matt Wallace has bogeyed his second hole in a row to move back to 2-under.
10:58 a.m.: Many Bethpage golfers have found the right trees at the first hole where Tiger’s drive ended up. But he has a look, and plays his approach beautifully to about 20 feet, hole high right of the back-left pin. That’s a strong recovery from the trees and a look at birdie.
Brooks Koepka, meanwhile, is in full attack mode. From 88 yards out, he sticks his approach to five feet—for a chance at another birdie, which would give him the solo lead.
10:49 a.m.: Brooks Koepka joins the lead at 3-under, converting the birdie at the 18th hole. It’s a bogey-free, three-birdie front nine for the three-time major champion. He’s out in 32, tying Tommy Fleetwood and Matt Wallace atop the leaderboard.
Tiger’s birdie bid slides by but he cleans up for birdie. It was a roller-coaster opening nine for Tiger—he looked like he had changed the momentum after the birdie at 15. But a second double bogey, this one at the 17th, has him out in 38 with his work cut out for him heading to the front nine.
Francesco Molinari adds his second birdie in three holes to make the turn in even par. Tiger’s going to have to turn it on to keep up with this all-star group.
10:44 a.m: After a great 300-plus yard drive, Tiger’s approach lands about 20 feet above the hole. Probably an unlikely birdie, but two good shots here on the underwhelming 18th at Bethpage.
Molinari hits his approach to about 15 feet in his attempt to get back to even-par. Koepka, meanwhile, will have a chance to tie the lead with a great approach to about 12 feet below the hole. With a Matt Wallace bogey, the lead is now back to 3-under, a number which Tommy Fleetwood is also at after a birdie at the third hole.
10:36 a.m.: Tiger’s bogey putt misses to the right. That’s his second double bogey of his opening nine—and moves him to 3-over par—erasing the good momentum from his birdie at the 15th hole.
10:34 a.m.: Tiger’s par bid rolls about six feet by. This will be a difficult bid just for a bogey now. Koepka, meanwhile, cozies his second shot close—he’ll head to the 18th tee at 2-under.
10:31 a.m.: Looked like Tiger had a fried-egg lie in the bunker, plus an awkward stance. He’ll have about 20 feet above the pin to save par—might be another dropped shot here for the 15-time major champion.
10:27 a.m.: Tiger misses the green and finds the bunker with his approach right at the par-3 17th. The pin is just on the right, but he’ll have a tough sand shot upcoming.
All three players miss the green in the similar spot. This 17th green is incredibly large: It’s almost better to miss the green slightly to the right than being on the front left edge of the green.
There have been zero birdies at the 17th hole so far on Thursday. Someone will have to chip in from this thick rough off the green to record one.
10:17 a.m.: Francesco Molinari escapes the rough with ease and sticks it to a foot. That’ll be a tap-in to get back to 1-over. Koepka also hits a great approach to about 20 feet. Tiger, meanwhile, elected to just chop it out of the rough and up the fairway. He hits a great chip to about three and a half feet, so he should be able to save his par.
Koepka misses the birdie but has another easy par. He stays at 2-under.
That’s now 2 back of Matt Wallace, who just added his fourth birdie of the day on the sixth hole. The front nine is playing the easier of the two nines. But he’s taking advantage better than anyone else. What a start for the Englishman.
Another Englishman is now one better than Koepka: Tyrrell Hatton is 3-under through 8. There aren’t many low scores so far at Bethpage—but the front nine is giving a couple birdie opportunities—which these Englishmen are taking advantage of.
10:10 a.m.: Tiger finds the rough off the 16th tee on the right side. That one cut just a little too much. He’ll have 207 yards out for his approach. Koepka found the fairway but is back a bit. He’ll have a similar distance in. Molinari’s was the most wayward of the bunch.
The 16th is one of the most difficult on the course. And the featured group of the morning is finding that out here.
Tommy Fleetwood, who opened with a bogey at the difficult 10th, has followed that up with three birdies (15, 16 and 1) to tie Koepka at 2-under, which is one back of Matt Wallace’s lead.
10:04 a.m.: Tiger makes the unlikely birdie at the 15th hole to get one back—moving to 1-over through his first six holes. That was made possible by an incredible approach from 208 yards to this back pin. It’s obviously early in his week, but that feels like a huge birdie for Tiger.
9:58 a.m.: From 208 yards out to this elevated green, Tiger Woods hits a tremendous iron to about 15 feet. He played the slope off the left side of the green to this back hole location. He’ll be on the correct level with a decent chance to get one back with a birdie. He’s still 2-over through his first five holes.
Brooks Koepka, now at 2-under after the birdie at 14, gets his 6-iron from the rough, 205 yards out, onto the correct level as well. Francesco Molinari has a chance for a birdie, too. He’s at 1-over through five.
9:50 a.m.: Tiger’s been relying on the power fade off the tee early. And he goes back to it on the brute, uphill par-4 15th hole. That’ll leave him a little farther back to this elevated green, but being in the fairway at Bethpage is critical. Tiger’s done that here again.
9:45 a.m.: Koepka buries his putt at the 14th to move to two under. Man is a straight machine. Though Woods blows his try five feet by, he cleans up the scrap to remain at two over.
9:40 a.m.: Woods’ tee shot at the par-3 14th to the middle of the green. Appeared he misjudged the wind, coming up a club-and-a-half short. Another long birdie awaits.
9:30 a.m.: A look at the early leaderboard shows Charley Hoffman, J.B. Holmes and Matt Wallace at two under. I don’t think the Bethpage ecosystem is ready for Holmes and his pace come Saturday. Pray for us all.
9:26 a.m.: After laying up, Woods has 80 yards to the pin…and, similar to 10, flies the flag by a mile. Something is not clicking this morning.
Woods recovers with a nice chip to gimme distance, but a curious start to his round.
9:15 a.m.: Woods plays a nice fade off the 13th tee, one that finds the fairway at the 600-yard plus par 5. Probably too far out to get home in two, but doing what he needs to do after the rough start.
9:10 a.m.: Tiger puts a nice roll, but it doesn’t break right. Would have been a fantastic bounce-back, yet it’s a par he’ll gladly take.
9:05 a.m.: From 200 yards out, Woods goes with a 4-iron. Slightly tugged and tad short, it finds the green. Not exactly a makable putt, but back-to-back pars would go ways in righting the ship.
9:00 a.m.: On the 12th, Woods goes with a baby cut. Doesn’t go far, but it finds the fairway. As does Brooks, who missed his short birdie putt on the 11th.
8:50 a.m.: Woods finds the green at the 11th, but a lengthy birdie awaits. Meanwhile Brooks looks like he’s playing a pitch-n-putt, dropping his approach to six feet.
Woods gives a nice effort on the birdie, but it rolls just to the right. A par he’ll gladly take though after the disaster at 10.
8:44 a.m.: Following that brutal start, Woods elects a fairway wood off the tee, putting one right down the middle at the 11th. Still, our thoughts and prayers to those that made the 30-minute journey to the 10th, only to watch that horror unfold.
8:40 a.m.: Woods’ pitch is a pretty good effort, leaving five feet. But he blows his putt by. Double. Not what Woods, or his backers, had in mind.
8:36 a.m.: Oh boy. Woods’ wedge shot flies the green. About as bad as a shot as you’ll see Woods make from 100 yards. Meanwhile Koepka drops a 40 footer for bird from the fringe. Business as usual.
8:32 a.m.: Despite being just a yard or two off the fairway, Woods has to lay up from 200 yards. Mean up-and-down for par awaits.
On the bright side, Molinari finds his ball, choosing to lay up as well. Koepka’s approach goes a tad long, meaning 0-for-3 from the marquee group at the 10th.
8:28 a.m.: Woods hits a cut on the first drive of the day. A ball that cuts a bit too much, finding the rough. Though not ideal, it’s better than Molinari, whose tee shot goes so far left he has to reload. Meanwhile Brooks finds the middle of the short stuff, because of course he does. We are off.
8:15 a.m.: Tiger is out at the 10th, which requires a car ride and sherpa to reach. He gets some work in at the temporary green and is about to roll.
8:00 a.m.: Good news. Thomas Pieters birdies the 13th. Bad news: He played the first three holes six over. Still, progress.
7:46 a.m.: As much as one can read into these things, Woods still looks a tad under the weather, but it doesn’t seem to be effecting his warm-up, blasting ball after ball into the stratosphere. Along with getting one closer to Jack, a win at Bethpage would tie Tiger with Sam Snead for the all-time PGA Tour wins mark. Although, as colleague Alex Myers points out, it’s a record that should (arguably) already belong to Big Cat.
7:30 a.m.: Woods won’t tee off for another hour, but he won’t get the chance to ease into his round. The 10th through 12th is one of the hardest stretches in all of golf, and it’s showing early going. The first six players played the 10th in six over. Kiradech Aphibarnrat started double-double, Thomas Pieters goes triple and bogey, and Brian Gay stumbles to the 13th tee at four over. There’s a “Warning” sign for a reason, folks.