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Woods, McIlroy work out the kinks
Scrutiny came early to Muirfield Village on a picturesque Midwestern day on Thursday morning.
With the eyes of the golf world upon them, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy teed off at the Memorial within minutes of each other, both desperate for a reversal of recent misfortunes with the US Open looming.
McIlroy, coming off the first back-to-back missed cuts of his career, went first, and it didn't take long for calamity to strike.
After starting on the 10th, the Irishman found the back bunker on the par-3 12th and couldn't overcome an awkward stance and down slope, rinsing the sand shot.
He had to ask where the drop zone was and, from there, found the front bunker.
Eventually, his shoulders slumped, he tapped in for a quadruple-bogey 7.
"It wasn't the start that I wanted to get off to, being 4 over through three holes, especially after the last few weeks," he said.
"I was just like, 'Here we go again.' "
But then, it wasn't.
If his thoughts had turned to Paris, where his girlfriend, Caroline Wozniacki, is through to the third round of the French Open, he quickly turned them back to Ohio and the situation at hand.
McIlroy admirably rebounded from the quadruple disaster with four birdies and a chip-in eagle against a lone bogey to finish the opening round at 1 under par, only two shots off the early lead.
"I just tried to stay patient and not even think about the score, just think about what I’m working on in my swing and try and make good swings," McIlroy said.
He made his share of good swings, and — crucially — more than his share of holed putts, taking just 25 strokes on the greens.
Woods, meanwhile, was impressive in shooting a 2-under-par round of 70, his lone blemish a sloppy double-bogey at the 18th, his ninth hole of the day.
"It certainly could have been a lot lower," Woods, whose allergies were bothering him, said of his day.
"But I'm pleased with the way I hit the golf ball today. I didn't do anything great and I didn't do anything poorly today. It was just a solid round today."
And he hasn't had any of those since winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in March.
Woods comes off two ties for 40th — at the Masters, his worst finish at Augusta National, and The Players — sandwiched around a missed cut at Quail Hollow.
"I was able to make some nice changes over the break here and work on some of the things that I think I needed to work on, and I’m very pleased with that," he said.
“As I said at The Players, I did it in streaks . . . I was hitting the ball well in streaks and just needed to get a little more consistency.
"Today was certainly one of those days where I was very consistent."
Freddie Couples, who somewhat controversially picked Woods to be on last year's Presidents Cup team, was certainly impressed by what he saw while playing alongside him.
"He is such a good 6-iron, 7-iron, 8-iron player, that if he drives it well he's going to shoot what he did today, and if anything really went well (on the greens), he would have been 5 or 6 under," Couples said.
"He did make some key putts, but he didn't make many putts. He lipped a couple of putts, missed a couple of other ones that could have got the round really flying."
Woods started off by flying his tee ball 315 yards up the hill on the 10th, then followed with a 321-yard poke on the next, a par-5. His driving, which has let him down during this slump, was a strong point.
What wasn’t was chipping. And, again, it cost him.
He should have made birdie on the 11th after an excellent, faded 5-wood from 250 yards, but after his ball ran through the green, he flubbed the chip and missed from 15 feet.
It was the only par-5 he didn't birdie Thursday.
"I haven’t played the par-5s particularly well the last few tournaments," Woods admitted. "Today, I played them great."
With coach Sean Foley watching, Woods went to the range after his round, still refining a process that's been nearly two years in the making.
Not surprisingly, McIlroy was there, too.
His boyhood coach from Northern Ireland, Michael Bannon, was with him, the two of them looking for ways to keep the club from getting stuck behind on the downswing.
"Everyone thinks he's a right-to-left player," Bannon said, "but that's not necessarily the case."
As Lee Trevino famously said, you can talk to a fade but a hook won't listen.
"It's still a work in progress," said McIlroy.
"Just trying to get my swing back to where it was at the start of the year. I just crept into a few bad habits, and just trying to ease those back out again."
His goal is to get his game ironed out for the Olympic Club in San Francisco, where he’ll be defending his US Open title in two weeks.
"It would be nice if it was fast and it was quick, but if it takes a little bit longer, I don’t really mind," he said.
"I used to feel like a good practice session for me was an hour, hour-and-a-half, but it was quality, where I was hitting quality golf shots.
"Now I’m on the range for four, five hours, and half that time the ball is not going where I want it to, and you get frustrated."
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