FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – Tiger Woods earned his post-Masters victory lap that has consumed the golf world ever since the final putt dropped at Augusta National.
Major No. 16 will always mean more than most. The effort it required was well worth putting golf on hold for a while, keeping that party going and letting the weight of the moment sink in.
But there comes a time when the band stops playing and the lights come back on and everyone slowly exits to face whatever comes next.
For Woods, that meant a return to the grind of competition Thursday in Round 1 of the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black.
The transition isn’t always a smooth one.
“It wasn’t as clean as I’d like to have it, for sure,” Woods said.
The reigning Masters champ made two double bogeys and three-putted three times en route to a 2-over 72. It left him right in the middle of the pack Thursday afternoon and disappointed with the way it all unfolded.
Woods appeared stoic and focused all morning, eyes straight forward walking from green to tee, back in full competitive mode after weeks of interviews and honors and a legitimately touching speech from the White House Rose Garden while receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Woods shared the celebration with everyone close to him, including caddie Joe LaCava, but Thursday served as a reminder that it wasn’t a retirement party.
“That’s all been awesome, but it’s time to get back to work,” LaCava said. “That’s all in the past now. You still love it, but it’s in the past. … Not to discount it, that was awesome. The whole last month has been awesome. The people have been great. But now it’s time to get back to work and get after it.”
Woods’ first day back to work in the public eye began with a 15-minute ride from the practice area to the daunting par-4 10th hole, where an opening double-bogey set up a five-hour battle to shoot a respectable number.
There were bad breaks, like a plugged lie in the lip of a front bunker at the par-3 17th hole on a tee shot that would have been money with an extra yard or two.
There were costly mistakes, like the three-putt that followed and led to another double bogey at 17, his eighth hole of the day.
There were also impressive highlights that woke up the galleries.
The par-4 15th is the toughest hole at Bethpage and Woods made it look simple with an ideal drive and an uphill, 207-yard approach to 15 feet for birdie. He was one of just three players in the field to birdie the hole and also one of only three players to make an eagle in Round 1.
That came at the par-5 fourth hole, where Woods was in perfect position off the tee and into the green and drained a 31-footer to the loudest ovation of the afternoon. That eagle brought Woods to 1 under after starting the day 3 over through eight.
“I felt like I was getting back into the round,” Woods said. “I fought my way back and I had two double bogeys in there and was still able to get it under par for the day.”
The result was short-lived thanks to three bogeys over his next four holes, a highly-disappointing finish on a day when anything under par was a good score.
“Three-putting three times doesn’t help the cause, but he hit a lot of good shots,” LaCava said. “So I’m optimistic going forward. … Lot of decent iron shots. Doesn’t sound like it with 72, but it happens.”
Woods looked confident off the tee and hit 10 of 14 fairways. He used driver 10 times, woods twice and an iron once.
It was ‘definitely a mixed bag,’ according to LaCava, which isn’t all that surprising considering Woods hasn’t played in more than a month and started the tournament with just nine practice holes under his belt this week.
The opening effort left Woods nine shots back of leader Brooks Koepka, who played out of his mind and shot a course-record 63 in Woods’ group.
“I fought my way back around there,” Woods said. “Unfortunately I just didn’t keep it together at the end.”
Thursday’s opening round wasn’t worth celebrating, but it was an important time to turn the page and begin a new pursuit.
Woods & Co. are back to business at Bethpage.