Woods shoots 72, drops 9 strokes back in Australia
AP Golf Writer
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – Tiger Woods fought his new swing in a strong wind Friday and struggled to a 1-over 72, leaving him nine shots behind Adam Bland going into the weekend in the Australian Masters.
Even in his return Down Under, the defending champion is in the familiar spot of trying to catch up.
The surprise in blustery conditions at Victoria Golf Club came from Bland, who rallied from a poor start with a strong finish for a 67 that put him at 10-under 132. Another surprise came from Woods.
One day after so many crisp shots, he missed far too many greens for the way he is putting and couldn’t save par. Woods fell off the pace with a sloppy short iron into a bunker on the fifth and a pedestrian chip from behind the seventh green. And he made consecutive bogeys on the back nine to fall further behind.
“I wasn’t quite as sharp with my irons,” Woods said.
Bland had a two-shot lead over former Las Vegas winner Andre Stolz, who also had a 67 in the windy afternoon. Daniel Gaunt had a 72 and was alone in third place at 5-under 137, five shots behind.
The smile returned for Sergio Garcia, in his third tournament since a two-month break from golf to clear his head. The Spaniard easily handled the strong wind for a 6-under 65, his best score of the year, that put him back into the mix in Melbourne.
“I’m just trying to shoot the best score I can,” Garcia said.
Woods was only three shots when he finally teed off under a gray sky and wind that topped 20 mph. He played the 257-yard opening hole just as he wanted, into a bunker and out to tap-in range for birdie. And while he saved par on the third, he missed his target some 20 yards to the right, a sign of things to come.
It was the strongest wind he has faced since the opening hour at the Ryder Cup, only this lasted four hours. Woods found himself reverted to some old swing habits, and it wasn’t pretty.
“When the wind blows this hard, I tend to revert back to my old motion,” Woods said. “I struggled with that. It was a little more difficult than I thought it would be.”
The Australian Masters is the last time this year Woods is defending a title, and he hasn’t come remotely close in the others.
Stuart Appleby, not listed among the top players in tournament advertising, had a 69 and was in the group at 2-under 140. Camilo Villegas shot a 70 was tied with Woods, while Geoff Ogilvy birdied the last two holes for a 70 that brought him back to even par.
Robert Allenby had a 72, which at least was good enough to make the cut.
Garcia was right around the cutline when he teed off after opening with a 73, and he did hardly anything wrong. What helped, as it always does with the 30-year-old Spaniard, was making his share of putts.
Garcia made birdie on all the par 5s, picked up a surprise birdie on the third with a long putt from off the green, and finished with a wedge that settled 8 feet behind the hole and a fist pump when it dropped for birdie on the ninth.
He was not about to declare himself back to full form after one round, but it was encouraging.
“Even though it was quite difficult with the conditions, it seemed like we were always making the right decisions,” Garcia said. “Put that with how I was hitting the ball … to be honest with you, that wasn’t the lowest score I could have shot.”
His biggest opponent figured to be the forecasst. It began raining just as Woods finished, and heavy rain is expected for Saturday.