What was supposed to be the next step in a coronation turned into a long slog for Tiger Woods at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Woods has won this event eight times, and an opening-round 68 gave hope that he might be in line for a ninth. But uninspired play on Friday’s front nine offset a couple birdies on the back, and Woods ended the day where he started it: at four-under par.
Woods teed off at 1:08 p.m. local time knowing he’d need to go low to keep pace with a couple of horses: Bryson de Chambeau and Henrik Stenson, both posting matching -11s on the afternoon. Woods enjoyed ideal conditions for low scoring — warm temperatures, no wind — but couldn’t take advantage early on.
Woods started the day ugly, sending his first tee shot left and dropping a shot. The bogey at the first left him eight strokes off the lead of Stenson and de Chambeau, who wrapped just as Woods was beginning. He barely dodged drama at the fourth hole; his tee shot bounced off the out-of-bounds fence and kicked back into safe territory, and he was able to salvage par.
He spent most of the rest of the front nine much the way he’d spent last Sunday at the Valspar: erratic enough to keep from going low, consistent enough to keep pace with par. He bookended the front nine with a second bogey, this one courtesy of a poor putt attempt that ran all the way to the fringe, and hit the turn at +2 on the day, -2 for the tournament.
A touch of salvation came at the par-5 12th, as Woods lagged an eagle putt to set up a birdie, his first of the day. But again, Woods wasn’t able to capitalize on that momentum, parring the next three holes. His eagle putt from the fringe on 16 slid just past the cup, giving him a tap-in par. Two holes later, Woods walked up to the 18th green to a welcoming cheer from the crowd. He burned the edge on his birdie putt, and ended the day at an even-par 72.
Woods comfortably made the cut, and he’ll play on into the weekend even though he’s seven strokes behind the leaders. This wasn’t the triumphant round that Woods might have wanted, but there’s still time … and that, again, is something we wouldn’t have expected all that long ago.
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