Tiger Woods fights back to stay in contention at US PGA Championship
Woods is seeking a 15th major title and a first since 2008.
A change of shirt paid dividends for Tiger Woods as he recovered from a nightmare start to his opening round of the 100th US PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club.
Woods, who is seeking a 15th major title and a first since 2008, was among the early starters hoping to make a flying start in sweltering conditions in St Louis, only to drop three shots in his first two holes.
But after changing his drenched shirt in a players’ bathroom between the 11th green and 12th tee, Woods fought back to card a level-par 70 to lie six shots off the clubhouse lead held by fellow American Gary Woodland.
Woodland credited putting coach Phil Kenyon, who also works with Open champion Francesco Molinari, after making seven birdies in his last 11 holes to card a six-under-par 64 and overhaul long-time leader Rickie Fowler, who had earlier carded six birdies and a solitary bogey in his 65.
South African Brandon Stone and Zach Johnson were a shot further back on four under, with Ian Poulter, Jason Day, Justin Rose and Dustin Johnson part of a large group on three under.
Defending champion Justin Thomas had been on the same mark after just six holes before having to settle for a 69, while Rory McIlroy parred his last nine holes in succession to match the 70 of Woods.
Fowler was second in the Masters in April and finished in the top five in all four majors in 2014, but has yet to claim one of golf’s biggest prizes as he approaches his 30th birthday.
“I always have hope,” said Fowler, who wore a yellow shirt in tribute to the late Jarrod Lyle. “I know Phil (Mickelson) didn’t win majors until his 30s, but it’s not something I necessarily worry about.
“Keep putting ourselves in position, get in contention – we have had plenty of runner-ups, Jack (Nicklaus) had a lot of runner-ups, we’ll just keep beating down that door.
“You can’t force the issue and it relates to some of our game plan and how we’re going about this week as far as just trying to play within ourselves and not do anything extra special. I don’t have to play special to win.”
Starting on the back nine alongside Thomas and McIlroy, Woods bogeyed the 10th and double-bogeyed the 11th after finding the water in front of the green, before a superb approach to the next set up a tap-in birdie.
The 42-year-old did well to save par on the 15th after pulling both his tee shot and attempted recovery into the crowd, but was unable to repeat the feat on the par-three 16th after another wayward approach.
However, Woods did hole from three feet for birdie on the 18th and 10 feet on the first, and another birdie on the par-five eighth completed a superb comeback.
Woods was delighted to have turned his day around and remain in contention for a first victory since 2013.
“It kept me in the golf tournament,” Woods said. “It could easily have gone the other way but I hung in there and turned it around. I’m just happy to be within five (of the lead) right now.
“I just had to grind my way around this place. I tried to stay as patient as possible after I got off to a terrible start and tried to eat away at it. These are four long days; it’s a marathon.”
Asked about his change of shirt, Woods added: “I was going to change before the start but there wasn’t a place to change on the 10th tee so I waited until there was a toilet.
“I sweat a lot in the summer and lose a bunch of weight; I’ve tried everything and just sweat a lot.”