The man wearing a top splattered with turtles made a fast start in the Hero World Challenge. Gary Woodland’s six-under-par 66 on a windswept Albany course in Nassau earned the US Open champion a share of the first-round lead with his fellow American, Patrick Reed.
As tournament host and a five-time winner Tiger Woods had to settle for a 72 following a topsy-turvy day, Woodland and Reed opened up an early two-shot advantage in the 18-man event after harnessing the testing conditions to good effect.
“The golf course is tough,” said Woodland after making his score with eight birdies, including two bursts of three on the trot. “We tried to play into the wind all day today – putting into the wind, chipping into the wind – and we did that. Sometimes it’s better to miss the green than be in the middle of the green putting downwind.”
At the last, even Woodland, one of the biggest hitters in the game, needed a 5-iron for his second shot due to it playing into a wind gusting to around 25mph. “It’s been a little while,” said Woodland, smiling, of that rare occurrence for him at a par 4 measuring 470 yards.
Woodland is among the 11 players in the field heading for Australia’s Sandbelt next week to represent the United States in the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne. “No doubt about it,” he said of the conditions here being good preparation for that event. “The iron play is definitely what you’re going to see next week, working the golf ball with the wind, controlling the ball distance-wise, so I think that’s a nice tune-up for next week.”
Helped by playing in twoballs, slow play was not an issue. “The pace is nice,” observed Woodland. “It’d be nice to see that every week.”
And what about those turtles on his top? “Yeah, Puma’s got me decked out,” he said before adding of notorious slow-coach Bryson DeChambeau, who is endorsed by the same clothing company: “He wouldn’t wear this – and you can say that!”
Reed carded seven birdies, including four in a row from the 13th. “This is kind of an awkward wind and the biggest thing is putting it on the green when the wind’s pumping as much as it was,” said the 2018 Masters champion.
“They actually just threw up my stats while I was just outside and it said I only hit 11 out of 18 greens, but I felt like I hit it a lot better than that. I felt like I hit a lot of iron shots exactly how I was looking at, flighting it how I wanted to, holding it into the wind etc.”
It was a good first outing for a new set of irons in his bag.
Asked if the change of clubs had been a bit of a risk heading into the Presidents Cup, he replied: “Normally I’d say yes. But I’ve been at home grinding with these a little bit. [In] four or five of my irons the grooves were kind of gone, so it was kind of a perfect time to debut them and throw them in.”
In his first competitive round since winning the Zozo Championship in Japan at the end of October, Woods turned in two-over, then looked to have transformed his day by picking up five shots in five holes, including an eagle-3 at the 15th but he finished bogey-double bogey
“It was not a very good start,” said the Presidents Cup playing captain. “Didn’t play the par 5s well early and then got it going on the back nine for a little bit. Got myself kind of right there in the mix and then bad shots on 17, 18.
“This is definitely a different wind. It blew hard and it was tough all day. The ball was moving a little bit on the greens and it was just a tough scoring day. I didn’t putt that well today, but my short game was great, drove it really well. Just hit a couple poor iron shots that cost me a few shots.”
Justin Rose, who lives here, and Henrik Stenson are both handily-placed after matching 69s, with new European No 1 Jon Rahm also in the top 10 following his 70.