Tiger Woods hit the ball as well as he has all year, except on the greens.
In his final title defense of a forgettable year, Woods opened the Australian Masters with a 2-under 69 and was four shots behind the early leaders Thursday at Victoria Golf Club.
Woods missed only two greens in regulation, both times saving par from a bunker. But he took 19 putts on his outward nine, and had to hole a 7-foot par putt on the final hole to avoid his second three-putt bogey.
Geoff Ogilvy, who was a member at Victoria as a teenager, opened with a 72.
“That was probably the highest score I could have shot,” Woods said. “I gave myself a lot of looks early. I just didn’t kept leaving them short. The only bogey I had was a three-putt.”
Woods hit driver only on the par 5s, opting to play for position with a 2-iron and occasional 3-wood as he did a year ago at Kingston Heath when he won for the first time Down Under. Woods captured his 82nd title worldwide last year, and finished off another strong season with seven wins.
Twelve days later, he was in a car accident outside his Florida home that led to revelations of infidelity.
Woods has said he’s not looking at his trip to Melbourne as the completion of a year that cost him his marriage and his golf game, rather it was a tournament he was trying to win.
Even after a perplexing round on the greens, he felt he was on track.
“I could have easily been 4, 5, 6 under,” Woods said. “I don’t know what the guys are going to do this afternoon, but I’m right there.”
He certainly was in play.
Woods missed only two fairways — with a driver on the par-5 18th that forced him to pitch out sideways from the trees, and a 3-wood that he pulled into the bunker on the eighth, which has been converted to a par 4 for the Australian Masters.
Perhaps his most impressive swing came on the par-5 17th, when he hit a low cut with a driver some 25 yards beyond Robert Allenby, leaving Woods a 2-iron to about 30 feet above the hole. He narrowly missed that eagle attempt.
Woods missed three putts — one of them for par — inside 7 feet on his opening nine. Toward the end of a round in warm sunshine on the sandbelt, Woods made almost everything from about that distance, looking birdies on the par-4 first and the par-3 fourth.
“I hit the ball well all day,” Woods said. “It was just a matter of getting committed to hit the ball a little harder on my putts. I was in all the right spots. But they’re really slow up the hill and really quick going down, and I didn’t make the adjustment.”
Woods certainly wasn’t alone. Robert Allenby opened with consecutive three-putts from inside 18 feet, and had five three-putt greens on the day. He shot a 73.