He knew he wasn't going to win the U.S. Open on Thursday. The way he was spraying the ball around Pinehurst No. 2, his job became finding a way not to lose it.
'Granted I didn't drive it as well as I wanted to. I didn't hit my irons as precisely as I needed to, either,' Woods said. 'I felt like I didn't make a lot of putts. But I just kept hanging in there, just kept grinding.'
The greatest player of his time usually wins tournaments by posting a lot of red numbers, even at the U.S. Open. That didn't happen Thursday when he birdied both the par-5s but nothing else.
And it's not going to happen the rest of the week on a course that penalizes even the slightest mistake.
'It's OK to make a par,' Woods said. 'You know that if you do that for 72 straight holes you're looking pretty good.'
For a while in his first round, Woods wasn't looking very good. He started on the back nine and promptly made birdie on his first hole, but by the time he made the turn on a steamy morning amid the Carolina pines he was 1 over.
Woods wasn't hitting fairways and he wasn't making putts. The massive gallery that followed him and playing partners Chris DiMarco and Luke Donald wanted a chance to cheer, but it's hard to yell and scream for par saves.
'We heard one roar today and that was when Chris holed out on No. 2,' Woods said. 'Other than that you didn't hear anything.'
Woods tried to give them something to cheer for, and it almost backfired badly. It came on the 336-yard third hole, a par 4 that's marginally drivable but one that most players opt to play with irons off the tee.
DiMarco and Donald did just that while Woods took his time on the tee, pulling out a pen to put his mark on a new ball. Finally, Woods motioned for DiMarco and Donald to go ahead and walk to their balls while he waited for the green to clear to take his shot.
A crowd applauded, sensing some drama. Woods gave it to them, but not in the way he wanted.
Woods took a vicious swing with his driver, and the loud whack of club hitting ball reverberated through the pines. A few seconds later there was another sound ' that of Woods' ball ricocheting off a tree deep off the right side of the fairway.
You don't win Opens without some breaks, though. And Woods got a boost toward winning his third when the ball bounced off the tree toward the green, ending up in deep rough just short of a greenside bunker.
'Great break there because I came out of my drive,' Woods said. 'I'm trying to hit some kind of low fade in the right bunker, so I can pitch up on the green. I overcooked it big time.'
Woods nearly compounded his mistake on his next shot, a muffed pitch that barely cleared the bunker. He made par, but his adventures weren't over.
On the next hole, a reachable par 5, Woods hit his drive so far left that those standing behind the ropes on the left side of the hole near the tee box gasped as the ball shot over their heads.
Woods found his ball buried deep in the left rough, but somehow managed to get a middle iron on the ball and hit it into the greenside bunker. From there, he hit it to 1 foot and made his only other birdie of the day.
Over the space of four holes, Woods missed three fairways, hit a tree, found a bunker and misplayed a pitch. For the four holes he was 1-under, thanks to magnificent work around the mounded greens that are Pinehurst's trademark.
He was also painstakingly patient on a day and on a course where patience was tested at every turn. The 70 was never going to be a 65, but Woods had every opportunity to turn it into a 75 and didn't.
'I relish it anytime we get an opportunity to play a golf course like that,' Woods said. 'When you shoot well in the '60s you move up the board and you're going to move up the board fast. That's how major championships are, and that's why I think all of us enjoy playing them.'
Woods will have three more days to enjoy this one. He already owns one major championship this year, and did nothing to shoot himself out of a second.
'Today was a very satisfactory day,' Woods said. 'I feel if I could have three more days like this I'm going to be close to where I need to be on Sunday.'
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