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BILL DWYRE

Tiger Woods stays in play

With most of the attention on him, as usual, Woods struggles some but shows flashes of brilliance during the first round at Torrey Pines.

January 27, 2011|Bill Dwyre
  • Tiger Woods watches his tee shot on the 18th hole during the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines on Thursday.
Tiger Woods watches his tee shot on the 18th hole during the first round of… (Mike Blake / Reuters )

From La Jolla — On Thursday, the first day of the rest of his golfing life, Tiger Woods held serve.

The skies framed him in stunning blue. The fans who either always loved him or have decided they do again surrounded him and rooted him on. The golf course, Torrey Pines North, challenged him with narrow fairways, undulating greens and rough twice the length of his putter head.

Last year was the season of his discontent. Thursday was the beginning of his tomorrow, his first round of his first PGA Tour event of 2011.

He spent most of 2010 struggling and atoning. His marital mess was so public and nasty that even one of the most driven, focused golfers in the history of the game couldn't hit it 340, sink a long putt and forget. Fans in the gallery didn't let him. Nor did people with microphones and laptops.

But time, that great healer, has begun to apply its salve. The story is still Tiger Woods, beginning anew. No matter what else happened during the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open on the fabled 36-hole layout that sits proudly above the Pacific Ocean, Thursday was about him.

He shot 69, three under par, and trailed by five shots.

The leader, Sunghoon Kang of South Korea, shot 64. Alex Prugh had 65, as did young shooting star Rickie Fowler, who wore pink shoes, a pink shirt and a pink cap and is clearly in touch with his feminine side.

Chris Kirk played in the same foursome as Kang and shot 66. Ten players had 67s, including 2004 winner John Daly and the other straw that stirs the drink in golf, Phil Mickelson. Anthony Kim, playing with Woods, birdied his last hole for 68.

That gave them all a shot at the second paragraph.

As long as Woods could still see the leader in the distance, with three rounds to play, his year of great expectations had had a good beginning.

Was he happy with his 69?

"I was happy with the way I played," he said.

The post-match discussion was about the toughened-up North Course, always considered an easier stepchild when compared to the South, where Tiger last won while limping around on a broken leg and beating Rocco Mediate in a playoff in the 2008 U.S. Open. They used to estimate a five-shot difference from one course to the next.

"I think it's about two now," Woods said.

Remarkably, Woods managed his 69 while making par on all four par-fives. In pro golf, that is where you make hay. Holes that are unreachable in two to weekend duffers are treated as birdie manna from heaven by the pros.

Woods drove it well on two of those and had his ball roll off the hard fairways into the high rough. On the other two, he drove it like a weekend duffer. There were no eagle putts for Eldrick on this day.

"I didn't take care of the par-fives," he said, "and you have to."

One of the par-fives, No. 18 — the ninth hole for Woods, who teed off on No. 10 — was especially frustrating. It presented both a glimpse of the unhappy Tiger Woods that we saw lots of last year, and the incredible shot-making Tiger Woods that we have seen over 15 years and 14 major titles.

He drove the ball way right and angrily invoked the name of a higher being as he watched his ball's flight. When he got to the ball, he was in deep rough, 20 yards off the fairway, on an uphill lie, with a tree 15 yards in front of him and branches hanging low in his path. The gallery, directly ahead and to his right, stood five and six deep and most of it in his line of fire.

A mortal, defined as anybody with a two-handicap and above, would have chipped it sideways back to the fairway and reloaded. Woods took out a five-wood and hit it through a 15-by-15-foot window below the branches and above the fans. It went about 220 yards and settled just short of the trap in front of the green. When Woods got to his ball, he was furious his shot hadn't turned out better.

Mostly, in the aftermath of his new beginnings, Woods was upbeat.

"I hit a couple of loose shots," he said. "But I know why, and I can fix those. That's good."

The circumstance of his departure from the top — he is No. 3 in the world now after 281 weeks at No. 1 —makes his fresh start in 2011 notable. With each ensuing outing, it will be less so.

Unless he wins.

Which is exactly how Woods wants it.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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