It is understood that Woods is taking tentative steps these days. He often holds a baton in his right hand when he leaves the box, and swings it gently like a stick as he walks toward a corridor. He doesn’t count on him for support – not exactly – but he seems to use it for reassurance. A security blanket just in case he makes an embarrassing move. There is a good chance that it will always be like that in the future, as the pain rises and subsides to a point that only he can understand.
McIlroy isn’t strutting as much as he once did. It’s the career of a slightly older, slightly wiser golfer, but he’s seen his share of disappointments, especially at the major tournaments.
They are both different – one because of injuries, the other because of confidence.
If you’re paying close attention in the first round of the PGA Championship on Thursday, you can take a look at the old McIlroy strut. When he flew the fifteenth hole – his fourth bird in a row in the morning – he reappeared. McIlroy walked to tee number 16 with his chest in the way, light on his feet like a prizefighter headed to the ring. I felt, for a second, like 2014 again, when McIlroy was the King of Alpha Sports,
Rory McIlroy Birds to put himself 5 below par in the PGA Championship.
Woods was trying to suppress a grimace. Late in his run, every swing and every step felt either hesitant or strained.
The return of the McIlroy brace was not permanent. He strangled her to a bedroom after crashing his car into a driveway dugout in the 16th slot (he saved the equality). A pair of carriages on the back nine reduced it. But seeing flashes of it in the Southern Hills during McIlroy’s 5-under par 65 was a beautiful sight. It was his lowest opening round of a major since 2011 in Congress, and perhaps further evidence that his final round of the Masters last month was an exorcism.
For the first time in years, McIlroy won’t have to come out of a pit to compete. He hadn’t spent weeks obsessing over the nuances of the Southern Hills in the lead up to the tournament – he didn’t play the course until he arrived this week – he just watched some videos on the bridge as a prep and decided to trust his natural talent.
“I think when your game feels like this, it’s just about getting out and sticking to your game plan, doing as well as you can, and staying in your little world,” McIlroy said. “You did really well today.”
McIlroy, who made seven birdies in his first round, was in a jovial mood afterward, who couldn’t resist having a little fun at the expense of the PGA of America press conference director when asked – yes or no – if he was happy to get off to a hot start.
“Yes or no?” McIlroy asked unbelievably. “No, I’d rather shoot a 74 and try to make the cut tomorrow.”
Shooting a 74 and trying to make the cut, unfortunately, isn’t something Woods laughs at, because that’s the scenario he faces after a miserable opening round effort. Woods looked sharp early on, making a birdie on the opening (tenth) hole and then another on the fourteenth. At that point, he was just one shot off the lead, and the massive crowd that followed him, McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, were pulsing with energy. (Speth wasn’t doing much to contribute to that; his dirty iron game resulted in a 2-over average of 72.)
But Woods’ conservative strategy of hitting the iron off some tees, when McIlroy and Spieth were hammering the driver or wood in the driveway, caught up with him, especially since his right leg looked tired. He made five bobs on eight holes during one stretch and missed the fairway three times with his iron 2. He admitted after the round that he was playing a game his opponents weren’t familiar with, and that it might not have a place for it in modern golf. Woods seems to be lamenting a bygone era, while also admitting he should have known better.
“We were talking about it [Thursday]joey [LaCava] And me, the days of Lee Janzens and Scott Simpsons and [Nick] Woods said: Faldos are out of the world, and he plays that kind of golf. “You go in there and hit the driver a lot, and if you have a hot week, you have a hot week while you’re there. The game is just different. It’s more aggressive now, I know that.”
On the last two openings – both bogeys – Woods was in pain from both tee shots. Every time he would bend down to pick grass from the waterway to cast into the air and measure the wind, it seemed like a grueling endeavor. When he tried to stoop low to hit the bunker shots, he appeared to be much older than his 46-year-old. The optimism that Woods had earlier in the week, when he said he thought he could win the championship, appears to have already faded.
“I can’t load it,” Woods said on the surgically repaired leg. “Loading hurts, squeezing hurts, walking hurts, spraining hurts. It’s just golf. If I don’t, I’m fine.”
It was hard watching Woods limping home and wondering if he should consider quitting, continuing with rehab and focusing on the St Andrews Open, but he seems to have no such plans.
“A lot of therapy, a lot of ice baths, try to get rid of the inflammation and try to prepare for it [Friday’s second round]Woods said.
Putting Woods on the ninth green, narrowly dodging double bogey after upside-down chip, he cautiously made his way toward Southern Hills Club, taking hesitant, deliberate steps up the wooden stairs. McIlroy made the decision to tie up a mound of grass instead, his head bobbing as he exploded next to him.