- The Washington Times - Friday, June 19, 2009

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. - Golf demigod and resident major favorite Tiger Woods staggered down the stretch Friday morning at Bethpage Black, sloshing to an opening 74 that gives the rest of the golf world an unexpected measure of hope heading into the weekend.

Seeking his 15th major title and second consecutive Open conquest, the 33-year-old Woods fought his way back to level par through 14 holes before butchering the Black Course’s infamous closing quartet.

“I was even par with four to go, and I was right there where I needed to be,” said Woods, who definitely caught the bad end of the draw on the 7,426-yard, par-70 layout. “Two bad shots and a mud ball later, here we go and I’m at 4-over par.”

Woods hit just seven of 14 fairways during an ill-fated first round which began in Thursday morning’s deluge and completed just minutes before the sun made it’s weekly debut just before noon on Friday.

His backslide to the clubhouse began when he blocked a drive into the wicked primary rough at the par-4 15th, the layout’s toughest hole. His approach to the two-tiered elevated green plugged in a greenside bunker, forcing him to take a penalty drop en route to his second double bogey of the round. He then suffered a mud-induced bogey at the 16th and blocked yet another drive at the 18th for a galling double-bogey-par-bogey finish.

“It’s not like I was hitting it all over the place,” said Woods, remarkably calm despite a finish which left him five strokes back of surprising clubhouse leaders Graeme McDowell (69) and amateur Drew Weaver (69) with only half of golf’s precincts reporting. “I hit a lot of good shots, but unfortunately didn’t finish off the round the way I needed to.”

While Tiger plummeted off the board, Weaver was surging. A recent Virginia Tech graduate who gained acclaim when he dedicated his 2007 British Amateur victory to the victims of the April 16, 2007 shootings on the Blacksburg campus, Weaver played Bethpage’s nasty finishing four in 2-under with birdies at Nos. 16 and 17.

“I graduated in May, and my sole purpose for this summer is to make the Walker Cup team,” said the 22-year-old Weaver, who hopes to make U.S. captain Buddy Marucci’s team for the Ryder Cup-style amateur event that will take place Sept. 12-13 at Merion Golf Club (Ardmore, Pa.). “Today was a good start, and I’m looking to use this event as a springboard to try to make that team.”

Tiger, meanwhile, might not get another crack at Bethpage until Sunday morning if the nasty Saturday forecast holds and Mother Nature dumps another ocean on the property. But it’s never prudent to discount golf’s major maestro. Members of the media buzzed anxiously around the interview area Friday, wondering aloud when Woods had last suffered a round that included two double bogeys.

The ironic answer: the first round of last year’s U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, where he suffered doubles at Nos. 1 and 14. The entire sports world knows how that deal turned out.

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