JOHNS CREEK, Ga. (AP) — Tiger Woods returned to the major scene with a major thud.
Seemingly spending as much time in water and sand as he did on the exquisite grass at Atlanta Athletic Club, Woods staggered to a 7-over 77 Thursday — his worst round ever at the PGA Championship.
A 15th major title? Forget about it.
Woods will need a major turnaround just to make the cut.
Steve Stricker showed it was possible to go low by keeping the ball in the fairway. He tore up the tough back nine with a 5-under 30 and, after heading to the front nine, pushed his score to 7 under.
Stricker led by two strokes over Jerry Kelly.
Woods was nowhere to be found. When he headed off to the clubhouse, stopping briefly to chat with the media, he was a colossal 14 strokes off the lead and only four players had put up a worst score.
“I’m not down,” he said. “I’m really angry right now.”
Woods knocked two balls in the water and spent enough time in the bunkers to feel like he was on a beach vacation. The result was predictable: Three double bogeys and five bogeys.
Woods’ previous worst round in the PGA was a 75, and the only time he posted a higher score in a major was that 81 in the third round of the British Open, played in awful conditions at Muirfield.
That result was stunning because Woods was in his prime, a superb player in the midst of winning 14 major titles.
Now, he looks like just one of the crowd, at best. Woods hasn’t won a major championship since his stirring playoff win at the 2008 U.S. Open — on a leg that needed major surgery.
Since then, his marriage has fallen apart, his reputation has taken a beating and his game is not the least bit intimidating.
Stricker has never won one of golf’s biggest championships, and the Americans are mired in their longest major drought of the modern era.
It’s early, but maybe he’ll take care of both in one week.
The 44-year-old Stricker made birdies at both the 15th — the longest par-3 on the course — and the 18th, a lengthy par-4 that has water hugging the left side of the fairway and guarding the front of the green.
Stricker has finished in the top 10 at all four majors, but never better than a runner-up showing at the 1998 PGA Championship. Overall, he’s 0-for-52 in the top events.
The Americans sure need a boost. They haven’t won a major since Phil Mickelson triumphed at the 2010 Masters, coming up short at six in a row. During that span, Northern Ireland has captured three championships, South Africa two and Germany one.
Stricker is the highest-ranked American in the world rankings, a spot that used to be controlled by Woods.
Fully recovered from a leg injury that caused him to miss both the U.S. Open and the British Open, Woods got off to a strong start with birdies on three of the first five holes, briefly grabbing a share of the lead.
Then Bad Tiger showed up again.
The trouble began at the 253-yard 15th, the over-the-top par 3 that is both long and protected by water. Woods went with an iron but it wasn’t quite enough, the ball plopping into the pond that runs along the right side of the hole. He reached down slowly to retrieve his tee and went on to make the first of his double bogeys.
At the 16th, a wild drive led to more problems. Woods landed in a fairway bunker to the right, knocked his approach into the gallery on the left, flopped it into another bunker and settled for a bogey.
Woods took another double bogey at the brutal 18th after plugging his tee shot in, yes, another bunker. He could only gouge it out, found more sand with his third shot and failed to get up-and-down from there.
His momentum totally stymied by a 2-over 37 at the turn, Woods staggered toward the finish. He started the front side with three more bogeys in the first four holes, then dunked another ball in the water at the sixth to set up his third double bogey on an increasingly sweltering day in the Deep South.
Temperatures were expected to be in the low 90s, with the humidity making it feel more like the 100s.
Woods closed with an appropriate finish. His approach landed in the bunker in front of the ninth green, his blast-out went far past the flag, and he missed the par putt.
At least Woods fared better than Japanese star Ryo Ishikawa, thought to be a contender coming off a strong showing at Firestone last week.
The 19-year-old should’ve brought his swimsuit, putting six balls in the water and finishing with an 85 — pretty much assured of missing the cut before much of the field even got on the course.
Dustin Johnson was among those teeing off in the afternoon, looking to make up for a gaffe on the 72nd hole that cost him a chance to win last year’s PGA.
Johnson actually went to the final hole at Whistling Straits with a one-stroke lead and still appeared headed to a three-way playoff after making bogey. But PGA of America officials ruled that he grounded his club in a ragged patch of dirt that was actually a bunker after driving far right of the fairway.
He had to assess himself a two-stroke penalty, which left Martin Kaymer to beat Bubba Watson for the Wanamaker Trophy.
Everyone raved about the condition of the 7,467-yard course in the sprawling suburbs northeast of Atlanta, which was the home club of Bobby Jones and had hosted three previous majors.
But a baffling mishap the evening before — mowers gone wild? — left two ugly patches in the 14th and 17th greens.
Apparently, a quick rise in the humidity caused the brushes on two movers to stick in the grass, ripping the impeccable greens. Head groundskeeper Ken Mangum had to bring in sod for a quick patch job and the PGA of America ruled that the affected areas would be treated as ground under repair, allowing golfers to move their ball if it landed there or they had to putt through it.
“We felt like our hearts had been ripped out,” Mangum said. “It’s a little bit like cutting yourself with a razor on your wedding day.”
He said the greens would be trimmed with hand mowers the rest of the week and it shouldn’t effect play.
“We’re still maintaining the same speed we had,” Mangum said.
Not Woods. He was stuck in reverse.