It's only Thursday, but that bogey-free 4-under 67 Woods posted after incurring two weather delays and a nearly 11-hour day from start-to-finish had to feel good.
“I played pretty solid today and I gave myself some looks,” Woods said. “I didn’t play the par 5s well today. … If I can play the par 5s a little better, I would have been higher on the board.”
Four years ago, Woods missed a 7-footer for birdie at the 72nd hole to finish runner-up to Heath Slocum on a Liberty National he admonished all week for its unfairly undulating, difficult greens. The powers that be took notice and have since made changes to 15 of the 18 greens.
There were no complaints from Woods about the course Thursday, especially not after two separate storms turned Liberty National into a pin-seeker’s paradise.
“It got a bit soft out there and we got a couple mud balls,” Woods said. “But you could be so aggressive going into the greens, you didn’t have to worry about anything bouncing.”
And aggressive he was.
Woods’ opening 67 included hitting 10 of 14 fairways, 13 of 18 greens in regulation and 27 putts. He made putts for birdie from 2 feet (No. 14), 6 feet (No. 15), 5 feet (No. 16) and 10 feet (No. 4). He had a handful of other birdie putts that came this close to dropping.
Woods’ round included few misfires, although two hiccups did come on the par-5 13th, Woods’ fourth hole of the day. He hit driver for the first time and pulled it left of the cart path on the adjacent hole. He had a clear shot, though, and hit it safely into the fairway before knocking a wedge to 4 feet. It looked as if it would be his first birdie of the day, but Woods missed the short putt, failing to take advantage of his first par 5.
Instead of dwelling on that missed putt, Woods rattled off three consecutive birdies on Nos. 14, 15 and 16. It looked like he might make it four in a row when he knocked his approach at the 17th to 22 feet. As Woods and playing partners Matt Kuchar and Brandt Snedeker were walking to the green, the horn blew and inclement weather forced players off the course for the second time Thursday.
When play resumed at 4:15 p.m. ET, Woods two-putted the 22-footer, made par at the 18th and turned in 3 under.
Woods was ho-hum on the back nine save for the 193-yard, par-3 fourth where he stuck it to 10 feet. He then struck his birdie putt pure and sent it into the center of the cup to get to 4 under.
Woods plodded around the rest of his second nine hitting solid shots, getting up-and-down with ease, never dropping a shot. Even a mis-hit tee ball or iron was rectified with a solid up-and-down.
Even on his final hole of the day, the 474-yard, par-4 ninth, Woods managed to save par from his toughest up-and-down of the day. He sent his approach shot left of the green into thick rough on an awkward lie. But he managed to hit it to 6 feet before curling in the par putt.
For a day that spanned nearly 11 hours on an aging, injury-ridden, 37-year-old Woods, he remained patient, poised and perfectly on-point.
For precautionary measures, Woods didn't hit a full shot on the back nine of his pro-am on Wednesday, to make sure his stiff neck and back would be ready for Thursday. He stretched and torqued a few times throughout the opening round, but maintained that any stiffness was due to the stop-and-go nature of the day rather than injury.
'The back was stiff going out on the third restart, but it is what it is,' he said.
Everyone teed off in their opening round but not everyone finished. By nightfall, Woods sat T-7, three strokes off the pace of Kevin Stadler.
The five-time winner this season, and lead candidate for Player of the Year honors, was pleased with his position.
'I'm only three back. I mean, we have a long way to go,' he said.
A long way to go, indeed, but a near-flawless 67 on Thursday went a long way in getting Woods some vindication from four years ago.