NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. – It’s a new body trying to recapture old feelings.
Tiger Woods began this comeback by eschewing a swing coach and watching tape of his old action. He’s tinkered with driver shafts and lofts, trying to rediscover what used to feel comfortable. And he’s rekindled his love affair with his Scotty Cameron putter, old trusty, the club with which he’s won 13 of his 14 majors.
But it’s not just the swing and equipment that has Woods taking a stroll down memory lane. The scores are starting to look familiar, too.
Thursday at the BMW Championship, Woods went out in 29, made seven birdies and an eagle, and fired an 8-under 62 – his lowest opening round in 19 years – to share the early lead with Rory McIlroy.
It was the kind of complete round that Woods has long been waiting for. He wielded the driver as a weapon, blasting tee shots over doglegs and bunkers. He continued to be razor-sharp with his irons, missing only two greens and ranking near the top of the field in proximity to the hole. And after his third putter switch in as many weeks, he finally saw some putts drop at Aronimink.
It’s the first time that he’s shared the lead, after any round, since the second round of the 2015 Wyndham Championship.
“It wasn’t anything special – he left a few out there,” said Rickie Fowler, who shot 65 alongside Woods. “I think it was just a good, solid round of golf. He hit some close, made a couple of nice putts. It was fun to watch.”
After experimenting with a TaylorMade mallet and blade putter, Woods practiced with his Cameron putter during a nine-hole practice round Tuesday and decided to make the switch on Wednesday night.
Even when he’s benched the Cameron in the past, it’s never been far from his mind. He said he’s constantly stroking putts with it on his backyard putting green, seeking familiarity.
“I’ve hit hundreds of millions of putts with it,” he said. “I’ve had it since 1999. My body just remembers it. It just feels very familiar to me.”
So, now, does his driver.
To start the playoffs, Woods added a degree of loft to his TaylorMade M3 driver and swapped out his driver shaft to a model he used for years.
It’s made a dramatic difference. After driving it all over the map for much of the season, Woods has settled into a groove off the tee. He was top 20 in strokes gained: off the tee at the playoff opener in New Jersey, then had another solid week with the big stick a week ago in Boston.
All but two of his drives went farther than 300 yards during a hot, steamy, four-shirt opening round. He hit nine of 14 fairways, his misses only a few paces into the rough.
“This entire year it’s been a moving target because my body has changed so much since the beginning of the year. I didn’t know what I could do,” he said. “My speed, my rotation, so many different things have evolved throughout the year and gotten better. There’s a feeling in my hands: Oh, that’s a familiar feeling; that’s a familiar flex point; that’s a familiar vibration of the shaft.
“Those are all the things that I used to feel, but now I’m in position I can do it again.”
The next test is whether he can feel what it’s like to win again.
He’s had myriad chances to win this year but has yet to close the deal, for a variety of reasons – untimely wayward drives, momentum-killing missed putts, critical mental errors. Almost every player has pushed his body to the limit by this point in the season, but especially Woods, who was unsure how long he’d hold up. Instead, he’s making his 17th start – just the third time since 2005 that he’s endured such a heavy workload.
Desperately needing a break, if only for a day, Woods opted to skip the Wednesday pro-am for what is believed to be the first time in his career. The reason was simple: He needed to conserve his energy, especially with the heat index here rocketing toward 100 degrees.
The old Tiger would have run six miles to cool down after a low round, but now, after four back surgeries, he favors treatment and an ice bath.
This new body might not be capable of reproducing his old feats, but Thursday’s blast from the past showed that it’s still plenty good enough to win.