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Tiger Woods’ thrilling recovery at happy hunting ground

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ONE shot on the wrong side of the creek. One shot in the water. Another one in someone’s backyard.

Tiger Woods was headed for another bad memory at the Memorial. One shot changed everything.

Woods recovered from a rugged start Thursday by running off three straight birdies late in the opening round to salvage an even-par 72 at Muirfield Village.

“I fought back and I didn’t really have much starting out,” Woods said. “Didn’t really feel my swing very well, and consequently I hit it both ways - mainly left. I wasn’t rotating very well. Made a few tweaks, a few changes, made a couple of birdies, made a couple of putts, and lo and behold, I finished at even par. I know it’s a long way back, but at least I’ve got a fighting chance.”

Woods is a five-time winner at the Memorial. The last time he was at Muirfield Village was three years ago, when he shot a career-high 85 in the third round and had to play as a single Sunday morning.

What turned it around for him was a 3-iron from 245 yards that had to carry a pond in front of the green on the par-5 fifth.

“That was huge because I just came off three-putting 4. I hit it over the back on 3 with a wedge, and I needed to get some momentum going,” Woods said.

“I had two par 5s left. I figured I could get to even par somehow. But I needed to take care of 5 first. And I was able to do it.”

The par 5s are what got Woods into this mess in the first place. With a slight wind into him on the par-5 11th, he played it as a three-shot hole by teeing off with a 2-iron. Woods pulled that so far left the ball went over the creek and into shin-high grass. He did well to chop it back to the fairway, only to put his next long with a long iron into the water in front of the green. He got up-and-down for bogey.

On the par-5 15th, Woods had two mighty swings - one that sent the ball well to the right; one on the way back, leaving him to slam his club into the turf in frustration. The ball went over an iron fence and into a backyard, out of bounds.

That led to double bogey, and he followed by hitting into a bunker on the par-3 16th and missing a short par save, sending him to 4 over through seven holes. He attributed the slow start to tightness in his back, though he said that was no cause for alarm even with four back surgeries. The last one was to fuse two discs in his lower back just over a year ago.

“I wasn’t rotating very well today. Back was tight,” Woods said. “And I made a few tweaks in my swing, my setup and I was able to make some good swings and turned the whole thing around.”

Woods said he has occasional days when his back tightens and he can’t get it entirely loose, but there’s no pain involved and he said it was “no biggie.”

The front nine was a big deal, starting with than 3-iron over the water. He two-putted from about 50 feet for birdie, found the fairway on No. 6 that left a wedge into 3 feet for a tap-in birdie, and then hit out of a greenside bunker and used the slope for it to roll out to 2 feet on the par-5 seventh.

Woods got up-and-down for par on the ninth from 62 yards in front of the water after a poor drive, and that was big, too. No one likes ending a round with a bogey, and even par at least kept him within seven shots of the early leaders, Abraham Ancer and Joaquin Niemann.

“It was nice to somehow grind out the round, turn it around, and finish even par,” he said. “Lunch will taste a lot better that way.” Lunch had to wait. He first headed for the putting green for more practice.

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