But in a stunning turnaround, Woods made six birdies – four in a row at one point – and no bogeys, eventually signing for a 3-under 68 that left him five behind co-leaders Ryo Ishikawa and Retief Goosen.
“I didn’t do anything different,” Woods said. “I said stay patient and it will turn, which I did. I turned it around.”
Woods missed the cut at St. Andrews two weeks ago, and then didn’t touch his clubs for a week while he went on vacation with his kids. But he got back to work this week and played three practice rounds, which is not the way he usually warms up for an event.
“It was important for me to get out here and play because everything in West Palm is closed,” Woods said. “Everything is being torn up. It was nice to come here and play.”
The tournament host has been chopping it around for much of the season, and he looked like the 266th-ranked player in the world after four holes. After a birdie at the par-5 5th, however, Woods suddenly began to look like the guy who used to be No. 1.
Woods turned in 1-over 37, and then ignited the crowd at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club with four straight birdies on Nos. 10-13. And it wasn’t that he just made four in a row, it was how he made them.
For a guy who only a few holes earlier couldn’t find the short grass with a fairway wood, Woods stuck a wedge to 9 feet on 10; hit a towering tee shot at the 187-yard, par-3 11th to 7 feet; smoked a drive on 12 and knocked it to 18 inches; and for his grand finale, Woods blasted out of a fairway bunker on 13 to 11 feet for his sixth birdie of the day.
The long dormant club twirls and leg kicks even made an appearance after smashing tee shots on Nos. 15 and 18.
And even with his miraculous reversal, Woods’ round could have been even better. He hit a poor wedge on the par-5 14th, left his approach out to the right on 15 and missed good birdie chances on 17 (11 feet) and 18 (16 feet).
Now, as they say, comes the hard part. Can Woods play another solid round on Friday and get himself into contention for his first win since the 2013 Bridgestone Invitational? He’ll have a good chance with an early tee time (8:10 a.m. ET), smooth greens and plenty of momentum.