Tiger Woods looked just as out of form in a celebrity pro-am as he did on the PGA Tour.
The world’s No. 1 golfer arrived Monday in Ireland just hours after his 46th-place finish at the AT&T National in Pennsylvania and shot a 7-over 79 in the first round of the J.P. McManus Invitational Pro-Am. The unofficial exhibition in County Limerick featuring Hollywood celebrities and Irish billionaires was his first overseas event since revelations of his extramarital affairs surfaced last year.
While more than 40,000 Irish golf fans offered him a friendly and forgiving welcome, Woods’ opening round at the 7,453-yard, par-72 Adare Manor Golf Resort was often dreadful. He bogeyed six holes, double bogeyed the seventh, and managed a lone birdie on the 17th.
He followed that up by gamely trying to reach the green on the 18th -- a 548-yard, par-5 hole on the far side of the River Maigue -- in two. His risky second shot fell short into the riverside reeds for a final bogey, the third time he had found water in his round.
Woods seemed to take his lackluster play in his stride, showing only mild frustration at off-target shots.
At the sixth tee, he stopped at a concession stand and munched on two bunless burgers. “Don’t you want any ketchup?” asked a fan nearby in a plastic lawn chair. “I’m good,” Woods replied, before asking his Irish caddie if he wanted a burger, too. Fans then urged him to tee off with a sand wedge, an idea Woods declined with a laugh.
He stonily ignored incessant pleas from fans to stop and sign their hats and programs, but was unable to avoid 6-year-old Ava Mulhall.
The County Cork girl with a pink windbreaker and red ribbon in her hair darted under the security rope and onto the fairway, past a grasping steward, and stopped right in front of Woods. He signed her program -- on which she’d already collected the signatures of nearly 20 other pros -- but Ava said he didn’t say anything to her. His security detail was beefed up afterward.
At the final hole, a car parked beside the green whisked Woods away to a helicopter for his overnight stay at the Limerick mansion of the billionaire McManus, an Irish horse breeder, gambler and speculator extraordinaire.
Every five years, McManus brings together mixed groups of pros, Irish business leaders and Hollywood celebrities for an event expected to raise more than $37 million for dozens of Irish charities.
This year’s celebrity golfers include actors Michael Douglas, Samuel L. Jackson, Hugh Grant, Aidan Quinn, Kyle MacLachlan and Peter Gallagher; English Premier League football coaches Harry Redknapp and Martin O’Neill; and Irish boyband Westlife. Amateurs taking part typically donate $150,000 per trio and are matched to each professional golfer by lottery.
At the end of Monday’s first round, Jim Furyk and John Cook of the United States, Peter Hanson of Sweden and Rory Sabbatini of South Africa were in a four-way tie for the lead, each 1 under par. Woods trailed in joint 48th place in the field of 54 pros. The amateurs’ scores weren’t recorded.
Woods was matched up with no major celebrity teammates Monday and his round took six hours to complete. One in his foursome, silver-haired Swiss banker Bernard Droux, played more consistently than Woods, who offered him compliments after his precise approach shots and solid putts.
Woods, by contrast, struggled with his short game, repeatedly striking the ball too softly or hooking putts wide. He also accidentally struck a spectator with his tee shot on the par-5, 551-yard 12th. The ball landed in front of the spectator, bounced into his head and ricocheted back into the fairway. The spectator wasn’t seriously hurt.
Woods is seeking to rediscover his form before next week’s British Open at St. Andrews, the venue for two of his three British Open victories, in 2000 and 2005. But he could lose his top ranking before then.
The No. 2-ranked Phil Mickelson, who missed a chance to become No. 1 at the U.S. Open, gets another opportunity at the European Tour’s Barclays Scottish Open this weekend at Loch Lomond, which Woods has decided to skip. Should Mickelson finish at least second in Scotland, he will unseat Woods from the top ranking he’s held since June 2005.