He finally broke 70 at Bay Hill.
Ending a peculiar drought at a tournament he won four straight times, Woods shot 6-under 64 in the Arnold Palmer Invitational for his first sub-70 round in three years to share the lead with Vaughn Taylor and Paul Casey.
Woods played his best golf in nearly six months, giving himself a birdie opportunity on all but one hole. He opened with four birdies in the first six holes, missing putts of 10 and 12 feet on the other two.
'It's definitely the best round of the year,' Woods said, pausing for effect. 'I haven't played that many rounds.'
Even so, he could not remember the last time he hit 17 greens in regulation, especially on a Bay Hill course with ankle-deep rough framing the tight fairways.
And while Palmer changed the scorecard to a par 70, it didn't stop Woods or anyone else.
The 64 was the lowest opening round at Bay Hill since Woods shot 64 in 1998. Taylor played bogey-free, picking up birdies on two of the toughest holes, including a 5-iron over the water to 8 feet on the eighth hole.
Casey's only previous trip to Arnie's course was in 2004, when he shot 77 in the first round and withdrew. He also played without a bogey, joining the leaders with an approach into 7 feet for birdie on the 18th.
'Having it played it twice now, I can honestly say I enjoy the golf course,' Casey said.
The record for most rounds in the 60s on any day at Bay Hill was 41 in the second round of the 2000 tournament. With 11 players unable to finish Thursday because afternoon stroms moved into the area, there already were 42 scores in the 60s.
Masters champion Phil Mickelson didn't have one of them. He hit into the water on No. 8 to take double bogey and followed birdies with bogeys on his way to a 72.
'I scored terribly,' Mickelson said. 'I scored 2 over on a course with soft greens that wasn't playing very hard.'
Woods won every year from 2000 through 2003, but after opening with a 67 the follow year, he failed to break 70 his next 11 rounds and was rarely in contention. He fixed that situation quickly Thursday morning, even as a strong gust kicked up early in his round.
'I thought it was important for me to shoot at least under par on that front nine, and that was all I was concerned about,' Woods said.
The only green he missed was his only bogey.
After a 3-wood on the 18th -- his ninth of the round -- he was between a 9-iron and a wedge over the water. The ball took aim at the pin, hit about 6 feet short, then spun enough to trickle off the green against the rocks framing the water. Woods said he could have hit the next shot if it were a practice round or his pro-am, but didn't want to risk a big number.
He took a penalty drop, chipped within a foot and took his lumps. He picked up three more birdies on the back nine, finishing with an approach into 6 feet on the ninth hole.
'I may have left one or two shots out there,' he said. 'Well, 64 around here is not too bad.'
It wasn't that unusual, either.
Sergio Garcia, Trevor Immelman and Sean O'Hair were in the group at 66, while Tampa winner Mark Calcavecchia, Scott Verplank and former Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman were among those at 67. Ernie Els put his tee shot into the water on the par-5 sixth and made double bogey, but steadied himself for a 69.
About the only thing Palmer can do now is pour concrete on the greens.
'The greens were very receptive,' Casey said when asked about the good scoring in breezy conditions. 'That was key. If you were in the fairway and had the right club in your hand, you could really attack the flag.'
One of the par 5s converted to a par 4 was No. 4, which played even shorter from a forward tee at 463 yards. Woods and Garcia wound up hitting 5-wood off the tee and a short iron (8-iron for Woods, 7-iron for Garcia) into the green.
The 16th played into the wind, but most players kept the ball in the short grass and kept big numbers off their cards. That was the key for getting it around Bay Hill, for Garcia narrowly missed the fairway at the par-5 sixth and could only chop it out with a 6-iron.
Most everyone at Bay Hill is in the Masters or trying to get there, and each round feels like building blocks.
'The whole idea is just to keep improving, keep fine-tuning and have everything together the first week in April,' Woods said, who appeared headed in that direction.
John Senden withdrew before the first round because he was ill, and it was costly. At No. 52 in the world, Senden will not be eligible for the World Golf Championship at Doral next week, and will not have a chance to qualify for the Masters. ... Tiger Woods won the Mark H. McCormack for the ninth straight year. It is given to the player to holds the No. 1 ranking for the most weeks during the calendar year. ... Dean Wilson used a 4-iron to make an ace on the 221-yard second hole. ... Tour officials set the first afternoon tee time for noon, leaving players a little more than two hours to complete the first nine holes. They had to push afternoon tee times back 30 minutes.
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