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Woods falters with chipping in return

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Tiger Woods helped attract a record, raucous crowd to the Phoenix Open on Thursday, the first big event in a week that concludes with the Super Bowl.

They didn't see much of a game — at least not from Woods.

In his first appearance at the TPC Scottsdale in 14 years — and only his second tournament in six months — Woods couldn't hit the green with three chip shots and was near the bottom of the leaderboard until two key shots on the back nine salvaged a 2-over 73.

It was the first time in his career that Woods shot over par in his first round of the year. And he already was nine shots behind Ryan Palmer, who opened with a 7-under 64 to build a one-shot lead when play was suspended by darkness.

"This is my second tournament in six months, so I just need tournament rounds like this where I can fight through it, turn it around, grind through it and make adjustments on the fly," Woods said.

He was 5 over through 11 holes when Woods hit a 5-iron to a foot for a tap-in eagle on the 13th hole. After making it through the par-3 16th hole, where he twice had to back off shots when someone shouted as he stood over the ball, he hit his best drive of the day that bounded onto the green at the par-4 17th and set up a two-putt birdie.

The fans didn't seem to mind. They were happy to see golf's biggest star at their outdoor party for the first time since 2001, back when Woods was No. 1 in the world and headed for an unprecedented sweep of the majors.

The attendance was 118,461 — more than the Super Bowl will get on Sunday — and broke the Thursday record at the Phoenix Open by just over 30,000.

What they saw was a player who suddenly has developed grave issues with his short game — particularly his chipping.

Woods is working with a new swing consultant, Chris Como, who is not in Phoenix this week. He still has trouble taking his game from the practice range to the golf course, which is nothing new. But when he last played, at the Hero World Challenge, what stood out was a series of chips that he either stubbed or bladed.

Two months later, nothing changed.

The focus on Woods quickly shifted from a chipped tooth to simply his chipping.

Woods twice chipped with 4-irons, which he called my "old-school shots from Augusta." On two other occasions, one after a chip he knocked across and over the green, he opted for a putter. It wasn't a bad play, but it used to be rare to see Woods choose to putt from the fairway instead of chip.

He attributed it to the change in his swing.

"I'm just having a hard time finding the bottom," Woods said. "Because of my old pattern, I was so steep on it that I have a new grind on my wedge and sometimes it's hard to trust. Some of my shots were into the green with tight pins and either I'll flop it or bump it, one of the two. I chose to bump it."

Palmer was 10-under par through 10 holes last week in the Humana Challenge and settled for a 61. He was 7 under through 12 holes on Thursday and then closed with six straight pars for a 64.

That gave him a one-shot lead over Keegan Bradley, who made seven birdies in the morning, and Masters champion Bubba Watson, whose tee shot on the 17th hole rolled a few inches from the cup and settled 4 feet away.

LPGA COATES: At Ocala, Fla., Ha Na Jang went from qualifier to leader in just a few days at the LPGA season opener.

Jang, ranked 21st in the world, shot a 7-under 65 in the second round of the Coates Golf Championship and opened a four-shot lead over Stacy Lewis heading into the third round.

The South Korean has full status on the LPGA Tour, but because the opener isn't a full-field event, she had to qualify last Saturday. Her extra time at Golden Golf & Ocala Equestrian Club certainly paid dividends. She's made one bogey in two rounds.

The start of the round was delayed 90 minutes because of frost, and the interruption prevented about 50 players from completing 18 holes. They will return Friday morning to finish.

Tiger Woods hits out of the rough on the 11th hole during the first round of the Phoenix Open Thursday in Scottsdale, Ariz. AP PHOTO