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Woods feeling chipper after tying for lead with 66

Tiger Woods in the 2013 WGC-Cadillac Championship
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DORAL, Fla. –  Before Rory, before the Donald, before 2010 Tiger Woods owned Doral like . . . well, pretty much every other beefy ballpark he’s frequented in his Hall of Fame career.

For nearly a decade it was Woods, not the South Florida layout, that was the real monster.

He won at Doral in 2005 and 2006 before it was swallowed up by the World Golf Championship umbrella in 2007, the same year he added his third tilt at the Blue Monster. He hasn’t finished outside the top 10 here since 2005 and has been out of contention only once in the last decade and that was when he withdrew last year with an ailing leg.

Like Bay Hill, Torrey Pines and Firestone – friendly confines for much of his career – Woods has savored the demanding delicacy of Dora, not to mention its grainy Bermuda grass greens.

So it should come as no surprise that on an uncharacteristically cool morning at Doral, Woods settled into the Blue Monster like a comfortable chair.

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After playing his first five holes in even par, a misleading line considering he carded just one par in that stretch, the Dean of Doral picked up momentum with a birdie at No. 16 before going 3-for-3 at the turn with birdies at Nos. 18 (he started on No. 10), 1 and 2.

“This is probably the easiest wind we'll have, some of the hardest holes were playing downwind, and it really wasn't blowing that hard most of the day,” a strangely subdued Woods said following the quietest 66 you’ll see in these parts.

All together now, “It was certainly a day that could have been a little bit lower,” he deadpanned.

It’s the golfer’s lament, but on this Woods could, if he is so inclined, dissect his day and come up a stroke or two better with little effort. Among those that “could of have been” was a three-putt at No. 13 (his fourth hole of the day) that included a power miss from 4 ½ feet. There was also a lip-out from 12 feet at No. 6 for birdie.

Contrarians will point to his 20-foot bomb at No. 16 and a twisting 35-footer at the fourth, or his 23-putt total as evidence there was a square give and take between the world No. 2 and the golf gods on Thursday. But good enough has never been a part of his lexicon.

If nine birdies doesn’t make dinner go down a bit better, the last time he had nine birdies in a round was on Day 1 at last year’s BMW Championship, those filthy putting statistics certainly suggest the hole looked like a manhole cover.

On this give Steve Stricker a solid assist.

Late Wednesday Woods huddled with Sricker for an impromptu putting lesson and it was impossible to argue with the results.

“I think I'm going to have a contract with him, because he's only going to play, what, five tournaments this year,” Woods smiled, tongue firmly imbedded in cheek. “So I'll bring him out in his off weeks – put his ball away for a week and come out.”

Stricker will play 11 events, actually, but if the part-time player ever decides to trade in his player’s credential for that of an instructor count Woods among his first clients.

Essentially Stricker adjusted Woods’ posture, similar to what he did before he won earlier this year at Torrey Pines with similar results.

“When I left him last night, he was really excited and it looked like he was rolling it really good then,” Stricker said. “So I just tried to get him set up in a better position where he could feel like he could accelerate down through the line a little bit.”

But Woods’ play on Day 1 went much deeper than his short-stick performance. There is a comfort level with his swing that is giving way to the type of thoughtless golf he has enjoyed when he’s playing his best.

Woods called his work with Sean Foley “solidified,” and on Wednesday the thoughtful swing coach echoed those sentiments.

“I see a lot less of the old patterns there, but he’s just been doing it more and his touch is much better,” Foley said.

For the last eight months Foley characterized his work with Woods as “fine tuning” with a focus on the same two basic concepts. In benign conditions on Thursday that translated into a ball-striking show, although Woods’ demeanor had a more clinical feel to it.

Paired with world No. 1 Rory McIlroy and No. 3 Luke Donald Woods easily cruised to low-ball honors in the trifecta, lapping Donald by four strokes and the embattled Ulsterman by a cool seven shots.

Ian Poulter caused a bit of a stir following his consolation match at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship when he said they should do away with the bridesmaid bout and award third-place money and points to the jilted semifinalist. On Thursday McIlroy and Donald seemed fine playing the “B” flight.

One lap in to a no-cut event, that may be a stretch, but with the poise and power Woods displayed on Thursday and his track record on the South Florida super speedway it is an ominous sign for the rest of the pack.

For a guy who made red a winning color, it turns out he looks good in blue as well.