Commentary

Putting continues to plague Tiger Woods

Updated: March 3, 2012, 7:46 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- The mini fireworks that made things a bit uncomfortable around Tiger Woods prior to the Honda Classic were missing during Thursday's opening round at PGA National.

Woods almost certainly would have preferred the reverse, with a calm, almost boring pre-tournament news conference followed by the kind of buzz on the golf course for which he has become famous.

Instead he was on the putting green as dusk settled over the property, working on his putting stroke with his caddie, Joe LaCava, and swing coach Sean Foley after a 34-putt effort that again made you wonder where the magic has gone.

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyTiger Woods hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation but still needed 34 putts in Round 1 of the Honda Classic on Thursday.

To be fair, Woods' putting in a 1-over-par round of 71 was not as poor as being tied for 139th in the field in total putts would suggest. He hit 15 greens in regulation and simply was not close enough to the hole often enough.

"I agree with that," Woods said after making a par at the par-5 18th, where he failed to get up and down for a birdie from beside the green. "I hit good shots, and unfortunately I just picked some bad lines.

"And also, I didn't get up and down either a couple of times, a couple easy up-and-downs, I blew those. So a round that should have probably been 2 or 3 under par quickly turned into 1 over."

Only one player in the field, Johnson Wagner with 36, had more putts than Woods. But Woods was tied for second in the field in greens in regulation.

Woods is playing the Honda Classic for the first time as a pro, as the tournament is approximately 15 miles from his new home on Jupiter Island. Perhaps he was waiting for the traffic to clear before heading out, but Woods seemed intent on working out some issues in his putting, problems that have plagued him at times over the past several months as his swing improved. He spent 35 minutes on the putting green.

Putting was an issue last week at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, where Woods was bounced in the second round by Nick Watney in a match in which Woods missed five putts from 10 feet or closer.

Two weeks earlier in a final-round 75 at Pebble Beach -- where he was in contention heading into the final round -- Woods also had a poor putting day, missing several short ones.

And yet when he shot a final-round 72 in Abu Dhabi to lose to Englishman Robert Rock by 2 strokes, Woods made putts from all over the Middle East to make up for a poor ballstriking day.

The winner of 71 PGA Tour events and 14 major championships -- a father-and-son combo followed Woods the entire round with shirts noting his victory record and the kid sporting a haircut with "TW" shaved into the back of his head -- Woods is looking for his first official title since November 2009.

And while he has made considerable strides in his long game going back to last fall, it is the short game, specifically putting, that has let him down. On Thursday, Woods missed three greens and failed to make par on any of those holes. He also had a three-putt bogey, and was unable to get up and down for a birdie at the closing hole.

A day earlier, when he was in the midst of a rather uncomfortable news conference in which a few questions about former coach Hank Haney's book had him on edge, Woods remarked that his short game suffered while working on his swing.

"I certainly have increased chipping and putting now, now that I've got the full swing where I like to have it," Woods said. "I can spend the majority of my time chipping and putting. [That's] where I know that I've been lacking my game and where I've seen the biggest improvement lately, too, which is good."

It wasn't on Thursday, which turned out to be the problem. Woods is 7 strokes behind tournament leader Davis Love III, the U.S. Ryder Cup team captain, who shot 64 with a hole-in-one.

Eight players are tied for second, 2 strokes back, including world No. 2 Rory McIlroy. Woods is tied for 68th, which means he will need to take advantage of his early-morning (7:30 a.m. ET) tee time Friday to try to make up ground.

"I just didn't get a lot out of my round," he said. "It's kind of how it went today. I felt like I played a lot better. I just didn't score."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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