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Tiger Woods Hit a Cold-Hard Shank In Competition At The Genesis Invitational, Battles Back Spasms, Shoots One-Over 72

Michael Owens. Getty Images.

The first rule of hitting a shank is you gotta own it. Trying to dance around it, to call it a push-fade, to suggest it wasn't actually off the hosel—that never works. You wear it with pride, and you move on. 

Tiger Woods knows this even though he can't remember the last time he unleashed a hosel rocket. (A quick Google search suggest it's been at least a decade since he's done it in competition). This one was undeniable.

"My back was spasming the last couple holes and it was locking up," Woods said after a closing bogey and a one-over 72 at Riviera in his first official PGA Tour round since last year's Masters. "I came down, and (the back) didn't move, and I presented hosel first and shanked it."

It's a harsh reminder of the battle Woods fights against his body every single day. If it's not the fused leg or ankle that's giving him problems, it's the back. He did well to mask any discomfort those spasms caused him, however, as the hole before the shank provided a glimpse of what he's still capable of at 48-years-old with who-knows-how-much hardware holding his bones together. He unleashed a 324-yard high cut down the center of the fairway, pured a 3-wood to the center of the par-5 green and two putted for birdie to get back to even par. There was plenty of good on this day—five birdies, to be exact, which were eventually offset by the six dropped shots. 

"I think sharpness, I'm just -- I just haven't -- as I said, making adjustments on the fly like that and the feel for a round and how to make those adjustments, I haven't done that in a while," Woods said after the round. "As I said when we were playing here, I was getting better each and every day, but then again I haven't played in a while again. That's kind of the frustrating part of it."

Therein lies the difficulty with playing so sparingly. Even a player of Woods' caliber and pedigree needs repeated competition reps to start playing at an elite level again. When he came back from spinal fusion surgery in 2018, Woods played 18 events and then five more in early 2019 before winning the Masters. That's simply not possible anymore. Woods said at the Hero World Challenge that he hoped to play roughly once a month moving forward, but even that's too few and far between to get back into a proper rhythm. There is simply no way to simulate competition at home no matter how much money he and Justin Thomas might play for. 

"I don't know what that looks like. I'm hoping that's the case, hoping that I play that much. As far as the physical ups and downs, that's just part of my body, that's part of what it is. That's all right, I accept it and accept the challenges…I'm going to be rusty and I have to do a better job at home prepping. We need to do a better job with lifting and treating and continuation of rehab protocols, all those things. I just haven't done it in a while."

Woods said his new Sun Day Red gear held up well in competition—particularly the new shoes. He's worn FootJoys exclusive in competition since the accident, even when under contract with Nike, but threw the new Sun Day Red shoes straight into the mix. 

"Shoes felt good, felt stable, solid and very comfortable to walk in."

Woods was eight shot behind Patrick Cantlay's lead when he signed his scorecard. It's all but certain that another year will go by the he doesn't conquer Riviera. Woods is making his 15th competitive start here but has never won at the site of his PGA Tour debut as a 16-year-old in 1992. It's the only course he's played in five or more tournaments at without winning.

"I have traditionally not putted well here," Woods said Wednesday. "This is a fader's delight, most of the holes are, for a righty, run left to right. I've driven it well here. There are small greens and traditionally throughout my entire career my iron game has been pretty good, but I have never really gotten hot with the putter at this course. Generally they're bumpy poa, so it's been a little bit tricky. For some reason it just has never compiled to a hot week."