SAN DIEGO – Even with weeks to prepare for one of golf’s most noticeable rule changes, Tiger Woods nearly flinched as he stood over a birdie putt on the eighth green Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open.
Woods was facing a ticklish, 45-foot birdie attempt – the kind of putt that can easily race past the target even with proper pace. But under the new Rules of Golf, it’s exactly the type of putt where players might opt to leave the flagstick in for some added support. That’s just what Woods did, leading to an easy two-putt par, but there was still a sense of uncertainty as he addressed the ball.
“Part of me wanted to have (caddie) Joey (LaCava) down there to tend the flag, because I just felt like I might be slapped two (strokes) if this putt happened to go in,” Woods said. “So that part, I’m trying to get over that. I’m trying to get used to it. But we’ll see.”
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Woods also left the flag in for a 63-foot birdie attempt on the 14th hole, where he again left with par. He shot a 2-under 70 in the opening round and trails leader Jon Rahm by eight shots.
Woods’ birdie attempt on No. 8 didn’t touch the flagstick, and it wouldn’t have been a penalty even if it did. But his inner conflict illustrates the balance current players are facing as they grapple years of experience with a newfound option to leave the flag unattended.
Bryson DeChambeau has become an outspoken proponent for the advantages of putting with the flagstick in, and Adam Scott putted with the pin in for most of his round while playing Thursday in the group ahead of Woods at Torrey Pines. But at age 43 and with a lifetime of made putts under his belt, Woods doesn’t expect to become a convert, even if DeChambeau and others present a statistical case for change.
“I’ve talked to some of the guys who are using it all the time, like Bryson,” Woods said. “I guess when you’re younger, it’s easier to make a change. You haven’t been playing under these rules for such a long period of time.”