Woods shakes off illness but makes slow start at Bethpage

By Andrew Both

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (Reuters) – Tiger Woods cleared up the reason for his mysterious absence from Bethpage Black on the eve of the PGA Championship, revealing after Thursday’s first round that he had not been feeling well.

Woods played only nine holes in preparation this week and he struggled on the greens in a two-over-par 72 that left him nine strokes behind leader Brooks Koepka.

“I wasn’t feeling that good yesterday, so I decided to stay home and rest,” the 15-times major champion told reporters. “I got a little sick.”

There did not seem much wrong with Woods’s physical condition and he did not play badly on the brutally long Bethpage course, where lush rough adds an extra element of difficulty.

A couple of misread putts, a couple of poor putting strokes, a couple of visits to the rough and a bad break added up to a 72.

He won the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines despite double-bogeying the very first hole, and will have to dig himself out of a similar predicament if he wants to lift the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday.

Masters champion Woods had gone 118 consecutive holes in stroke play without a double-bogey or worse until he dropped two shots at the par-four 10th, his first, on a crisp, sunny Long Island morning.

Although the six-foot putt he missed was certainly no cause for panic, unlike at Torrey Pines 11 years ago it set the tone for the day.

He missed four more shortish putts — including a four-footer at the fifth hole that was a momentum killer coming straight after an eagle at the par-five fourth.

“I felt like I was getting back into the round. I fought my way back to under par for the day,” said the 43-year-old.

“Unfortunately, I just didn’t keep it together at the end. I had a couple of three-putts there and hit a bad chip at (the eighth) hole and left myself in a bad spot.”

GALLERY WELCOME

Round Swamp Road divides Bethpage Black, with holes two-to-14 snaking their way between the deciduous forests and up the rolling hills of the state park and back toward the clubhouse.

A massive morning gallery enjoying brilliant spring sunshine surrounded the entire length of the uphill par-four 15th awaiting the arrival of Woods and his playing companions Koepka and Francesco Molinari.

They were rewarded watching Woods birdie what played the most difficult hole at both the 2002 and 2009 U.S. Opens.

But the par-three 17th bit Woods big time. His ball plugged in the face of a bunker and he could only extricate himself to 30 feet in the fringe, compounding his misery by three-putting from the fringe for his second double-bogey of the day.

Koepka, meanwhile, quietly and flawlessly went about his business almost ignored by the spectators, receiving perfunctory applause for his efforts.

The winner of three majors in the past two years did what he does so well, belting huge drives, followed by precise iron shots and reliable putting in a fine round of 63.

(Reporting by Andrew Both, editing by Ed Osmond)

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