Tiger walks in water to save par

Updated: February 28, 2013, 8:51 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- There are no statistics on such things, and nobody can quite remember the last time they saw Tiger Woods remove his shoes and socks to play a shot from a water hazard.

But that's what he did Thursday during the first round of the Honda Classic, and it might have saved his tournament.

Woods' ball at the par-4 sixth was partially submerged but Woods did his best Jean Van de Velde imitation, got into the water, played the shot back to the fairway with a 9-iron, then got that one up and down for an unlikely par.

He finished with an even-par 70 and was six strokes back of tournament leader Camilo Villegas, who eagled the final hole to take a lead in a tournament for the first time since winning here in 2010.

"How about that?" Woods asked of his shot from the water left of the sixth fairway. "It was only half submerged, so I could play some kind of explosion shot and get it back in the fairway. I got in there and I wasn't trying to advance it very far, just make sure I got it back in the fairway and give myself some kind of wedge shot in there, which I did, and I got it up and down."

Van de Velde famously went into the water hazard fronting the 18th green at Carnoustie during the 1999 Open Championship, where he blew a three-stroke lead by making a 7 on the final hole to fall into a playoff won by Paul Lawrie. The Frenchman, however, never played the shot, electing to take a penalty instead.

Woods took off his shoes and socks, put on his rain pants, splashed the ball out and then wiped all the mud off his clothes. With 80 yards left to the green, he hit a 60-degree wedge to 8 feet and made the putt for an important par that kept an otherwise uneven round going.

"I was 1-over at the time, and if that ball is not playable from where it's at, where I crossed (the hazard) was pretty far back and I would have had to have dropped -- I couldn't even get an angle in the first cut and had to drop in the primary and had to lay up and didn't get that up and down ... I'm looking at a 6, 3 over.

"All of a sudden I flip it, make par there and birdie the next. Could easily have been 3 and all of a sudden I'm even."

That is also where Rory McIlroy finished, in far less exciting fashion.

The top-ranked player in the world was looking to shoot his first round in the 60s this year -- granted, he's playing just his fourth round -- but missed the green at the par-5 18th and then hit a poor chip shot, leading to a bogey.

"I only had 105 yards in for my third and ended up taking a 6," he said. "Wasn't the nicest way to finish. I saw enough pretty good golf out there to be positive going into the next few days."

That is perhaps the best way for McIlroy to approach things. He bettered his best round of the year by five strokes, having shot 75-75 in Abu Dhabi to miss the cut. Last week at the WGC-Accenture Match Play, McIlroy lost to Shane Lowry and would have had a medal score of 75.

There were some more putting frustrations, as he took 30 over the PGA National course. He hit just 12-of-18 greens in regulation and, like Woods, made two birdies and two bogeys.

Both players still have work to do in order to get back into contention as they are tied for 61st.

Woods, ranked No. 2 in the world, was also bounced in the first round of the Match Play, and he also lamented poor putting. While he didn't make much, he also didn't give himself many chances, either. Woods hit 14-of-18 greens in regulation but only had five birdie putts inside of 15 feet. The one he made was from five feet. He also holed a 20-footer. He missed all six of his putts between 10 and 20 feet.

But he was still within striking distance of the leaders despite the slow beginning in near darkenss; he teed off at 7:25 a.m. Last year, Woods also started poorly here as well, having to scramble to make the 36-hole cut before a final-round 62 put a scare into eventual winner McIlroy, who won by two strokes.

"That's the thing, I hit the ball well today and on top of that, I hit good putts but unfortunately I didn't get the feeling of this grain today," he said. "It was either snagging or I would blow through it top side. I just didn't quite have it just right. I hit so many putts right around the edge that just were not going in. Just stick with what I'm doing because it's not very far off."

Woods is playing his fourth tournament of the year. He missed the cut at his season-opening event on the European Tour in Abu Dhabi, won the Farmers Insurance Open for his 75th PGA Tour title, then lost in the first round at the WGC.

On Friday, they trade tee times, with McIlroy going off at 7:25 a.m. and Woods beginning his second round at 12:25 p.m.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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