Tiger Woods visited the sand a staggering 12 times here yesterday as he recorded his worst opening round in 16 years of playing in the majors. The former world No 1 has always been accused of having a bunker mentality. Well, he could hardly deny that charge as he signed for a seven-over 77.
His USPGA hopes have gone up in a hail of grain, that much is clear. Woods is in a mess; mentally, technically, probably even personally. "I'm really angry right now," he said. "And there's a lot of words I could use beyond that."
Nobody wants to witness a 14-time major winner playing this poorly. He dropped 10 shots in a 13-hole meltdown. But then, it was all too easy to melt in "Hotlanta". The temperatures soared towards the 100 degree mark, concession stands ran out of water and pros suffered. Tiger was burning. But not brightly.
So much for all his optimism coming into this major after missing the US Open and Open; so much for all those who saw potential in his comeback last week in Akron. After a three-month lay-off his knee might be healthy but his scorecard wasn't. When he trudged into the clubhouse he was a humiliating 14 strokes behind his Ryder Cup partner Steve Stricker. Tiger is inexorably heading for his third majorless season; yet that's the least of his worries.
After his second worst score in a major (after an 81 at Muirfield in 2002) and his worst opening score in any tournament since 1996 (a 79 in the Australian Open), a third missed cut in the majors looms large. If that happened he wouldn't even be of 125 to qualify for the end-of-season FedEx play-offs. How embarrassing would that be?
Such a scenario was almost inconceivable when he was three-under for his first five holes. The beginning might be most important part of the work to some, but to Woods it was deeply misleading. He was flying until he hit the 15th tee (his sixth). And then he crash landed. Woods couldn't say he hadn't been warned. Indeed, Woods had done the warning. "I can't think of a stretch of holes coming in that is more difficult," he had told the media on the eve of the season's final major.
The day started so well. A 14-footer for a birdie on the 10th (his first) was followed by another on the par five 12 (his third). The latter was vintage Tiger. A wild drive right into the woods, a fairway wood somehow threaded through to locate the greenside bunker, a brilliant splash out to gimme range. When Woods stiffed his approach on the 14th, the 25-1 offered at the outset seemed on the aburd side of generous.
But then came "the ferocious four" and with one change of mindset he was wet and wild. " I was three under early and every shot I hit up to that point were all mechanical thoughts," he said. "But on the 15th I figured I could let it go and play through instinct and feel – I screwed up the whole round. I started fighting it and couldn't get it back. It's very frustrating."
His tee-shot on the 260-yarder (sarcastically referred to as a "driveable par three") found the water and led to the first of three double bogeys, only the second time in the career he has notched such a dishonourable hat-trick. He went in two bunkers on the 16th, before dropping another shot. His drive on the 18th plugged under the lip of a bunker. Another double.
Yet another bunker on the first (his 10th), then another bunker on the second, then two more trips into the sand on the fourth. He should have brought a deckchair. And although he struck back on the par-five 15th, another sand-inspired disaster was awaiting on the sixth, where he went bunker, water for another double. He finished with a bogey. Guess what? Yep, he found a bunker.
His mood there wasn't much consolation for Woods to glean. But at least he wasn't Ryo Ishikawa. The Japanese wonderkid shot an 85. But at 19, Ishikawa will bounce back. Woods's future remains uncertain.
Leading first-round scores (US unless stated)
63 S Stricker
65 J Kelly
66 S Micheel
67 S Verplank
68 B De Jonge, A Hansen (Den), B Haas, D Love III, J Senden (Aus), B Jobe, M Manassero (It)
69 B Davis (Eng), B Steele, A Scott (Aus), M A Jimenez (Sp), S Cink, B Sowards
70 N Watney, R Garrigus, J Dufner, G Woodland, P Larrazabal (Sp), R Karlsson (Swe), A Noren (Swe), K J Choi (S Kor), L Donald (Eng), J Vegas (Ven), R McIlroy (N Ire)
71 S Levin, R Fisher (Eng), B Lunde, R Palmer, J Edfors (Swe), P Hanson (Swe), K Bradley, P Mickelson, S Marino, J Furyk, Jo Wagner, YE Yang (S Kor), L Westwood (Eng)
72 C Kirk, S Smith (NZ), B Gay, S Garcia (Sp), D Horsey (Eng), D Toms, H Frazar, M Kaymer (Ger), A Cabrera (Arg), C Howell III, J Rollins, Rt Allenby (Aus), A Romero (Arg), T Hiratsuka (Japan), P Casey (Eng)
73 R Sabbatini (SA), S Stallings, B Lardon, M Brooks, S Elkington (Aus), H Fujita (Japan), A Quiros (Sp), K Streelman, C Wi (S Kor), M Small, Y Ikeda (Japan), M Laird (Sco), B Van Pelt, P Harrington (Irl)
74 S Dougherty, B Watson, A Kim, J J Henry, S Gallacher (Sco), T Bjorn (Den), E Els (SA), R Beem, I Poulter (Eng), B Snedeker, R Fowler, F Andersson Hed (Swe)
75 M Jertson, C Hoffman, J Sorenson, J Overton, W Simpson, D Johnson, R Imada (Japan), E Molinari (It), R Moore
76 V Singh (Fiji), D Hutsell, C Stevens, G Bourdy (Fr)
77 A Baddeley (Aus), J Daly, T Woods, M Northern, F Jamerson, J Donaldson (Wal), Wen-chong Liang (China), J Pate
78 J-M Olazabal (Sp), A Atwal (India), B Jones (Aus), L Nelson, D Olsen, R Moss
79 R Green (Aus), R Mediate
80 S Erdmann, JB Holmes
81 Daniel Balin, T Gainey
85 R Ishikawa (Japan)