A bit better than dreadful, Woods blames wind, grass

Posted: March 23, 2007

MIAMI - In a word, "pathetic."

Ask Tiger Woods for a frank and honest assessment of his round, and that's what you get.

Actually, Woods was referring only to his putting during yesterday's first round of the CA Championship at Doral Golf Resort & Spa, a World Golf Championships event and the final stop on the PGA Tour's Florida swing.

With all the opportunities he missed, Woods could have done worse than a 1-under-par 71 on a rainy, windswept day that left him 4 shots off the lead shared by Robert Allenby of Australia and Henrik Stenson of Sweden, both with 67s.

In fact, if Woods' day had been truly dreadful, he would have posted a 5-over 77, like reigning Masters champion Phil Mickelson or former U.S. Open champions Retief Goosen and Michael Campbell.

For all his complaints about his touch on the greens, Woods had nary a three-putt yesterday. It's just that he couldn't buy a putt from outside five feet. It got so bad that the Golf Channel devoted a graphic and low-light reel to Woods' half-dozen or so lip-outs, slide-bys and "missed opportunities."

He put part of the blame for his misfortunes on the wind, which was gusting to 30-plus m.p.h. around the course, plus his struggle to get comfortable with the resurfaced greens that haven't fully matured.

"I putt a lot by memory and what I've done here over the years," Woods said. "A couple of putts did the exact opposite than what they used to do. That's just that the grain has not had time to settle in."

Other than that, Woods was pleased with his round.

"I hit the ball well all day," he said.

As bad as it was by his standards, Woods was still one of only five Americans among 13 players within four shots of the lead.

The others were Charles Howell III (69), who is on a hot streak; Jim Furyk (70); and Tom Pernice Jr. and Bart Bryant (71s).

In addition to Allenby and Stenson, a strapping European Ryder Cup player who signaled his arrival in the United States with his win last month in the Match Play Championship, the leader board had more foreign nations represented than Embassy Row in Washington.

Dane Thomas Bjorn (68), Australian Aaron Baddeley (69), Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal (69), South African Ernie Els and Australian Rodney Pampling (both 70), and Spaniard Sergio Garcia, South Korean K.J. Choi and South African Roy Sabbatini (71s).

You could argue that this is one more sign that Americans are losing their grip on the game of golf. Or you could make the argument that, no, that's why they call this a World Golf Championship, with 46 foreign players in a field of only 73.

With off-and-on rain and wind whipping around the course, scores were generally high. Only 15 players managed to break par, and nobody, not even Stenson and Allenby, torched the Blue Monster.

"It's a bit of a struggle, but I managed to get through it pretty well," said Stenson, who had never played Doral before this week.

Like almost everyone else, Stenson found yesterday's conditions more daunting than the golf.

"When you're standing there and your pants are flapping and the putter feels like it wants to go all over the place, a lot of times you have to step away from it," he said.

If anything, that felt like home, on the European Tour.

"I guess we might be a little more used to playing in windy and tough conditions," Stenson said, smiling at the international flavor of the top of the leader board after the first day.

Contact staff writer Joe Logan

at 215-854-5604 or jlogan@phillynews.com.

Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/joelogan.

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