DUBLIN, Ohio — Tiger Woods said he had tightness in his lower back Thursday morning during the first round of the Memorial, a rare admission of discomfort dating to the period prior to the first of his surgeries more than four years ago.
While Woods has detailed his struggles over the past few years, he rarely did so while they occurred and was typically less than forthcoming.
But Woods said he had difficulty getting loose as he played his first seven holes in 4 over par at Muirfield Village Golf Club before rebounding to shoot even-par 72 in the first round of the Memorial Tournament. He is 7 shots behind leaders Abraham Ancer, Joaquin Niemann and Hideki Matsuyama.
“I wasn’t rotating very well today, back was tight, and just, it is what it is some days,” Woods said. “And I made a few tweaks in my swing, my setup, and lo and behold, I was able to make some good swings on my back nine and turned the whole thing around.”
Woods, 42, played his final 11 holes in 4 under par, with five birdies, and shot 33 on Muirfield’s front side after starting his round on the back and shooting 39.
Among his early misplays were four straight fairways missed off the tee, a third shot in a water hazard at the par-5 11th and a tee shot out of bounds at the par-5 15th.
Woods insisted his troubles were nothing to be alarmed about, that this is the new normal after spinal fusion surgery more than a year ago.
“It just happens,” he said. “I wasn’t quite feeling that well and just had to make a few adjustments, and I was able to make them on the fly, which was nice.”
Woods, who played long, detailed practice rounds at Shinnecock Hills — site of the U.S. Open — on Monday and Tuesday before the pro-am at the Memorial on Wednesday, said the extra golf was not the culprit.
“No, I just have days like that,” Woods said. “It’s aging, and it’s surgeries. It is what it is. Just got to make the adjustments. I’m able to make them now. Beginning of the year, I wasn’t able to make them, because I didn’t really know what to do yet.”
Woods said he could sense when he woke up that he might be in for a difficult day. And his back tightness didn’t get any better during his warm-up session. Asked when his back finally loosened up, Woods said, “It didn’t.
“I have days like that,” he said. “My back is fused. I’m going to have days where it’s just tight. Unfortunately, today was one of those days, and that’s all right. I don’t have any pain, thank God. It’s just tight. So, no biggie.”
Other than what it did to his score. Making five birdies should typically yield an under-par number, but Woods put himself way behind by playing the par-5s over his first nine holes in 3 over par.
Rain softened the course considerably, making for some good scoring conditions.
Woods ended up hitting 9 of 14 fairways and 12 of 18 greens and needed 29 putts — including a good par save at the ninth, his final hole.
A five-time winner of the Memorial, Woods has not shot in the 60s at Muirfield Village since the final round of his 2012 victory. Since then, he has had nine rounds at 70 or higher, with five of them over par. Among them was a third-round 79 in 2013 and a third-round 85 in 2015.
“The golf course was soft, the ball’s flying,” Woods said. “The fairways are playing so big because they’re so soft. You don’t have to worry about run out, and you can be very aggressive on the tee shots. But you miss it in this rough, you’re going to get penalized.”