After Friday’s near-masterpiece 64 at TPC Boston the rest of the 98-man playoff field may be wondering what they can do this weekend at the Deutsche Bank Championship to stop him.
Woods, who started his round on No. 10, played his first eight holes in 1 under before going on a six-birdie run at the turn in a shot-making display that looked more like 2006, which was the last time he won the Boston-area stop.
That he did so in swirling winds on a golf course that doesn’t lend itself to the safe play only showed how far Woods had come since last weekend, when he ballooned to a 72-76 finish at Bethpage and finished tied for 38th.
“I played OK,” smiled Brandt Snedeker, who was paired with Woods on Day 1. “Watching Tiger do that makes you feel like you’re playing a different golf course. That’s as good as I’ve seen him play. It was fun to watch.”
For the record, Snedeker didn’t exactly slap it around. The Ryder Cup hopeful finished at 2 under and is tied for 27th. It’s just that solid doesn’t seem as satisfying when compared to spectacular.
And other than a sloppy bogey at the last, his only miscue on Day 1, Woods appeared flawless, starting his birdie run with a two-putt at the par-5 18th hole from 50 feet and rolling in putts of 15 (No. 1), 8 (No. 2), 20 (No. 3) and 3 (No. 4) feet.
Woods capped his run by almost holing his approach shot at the fifth for a tap-in birdie and his second-best round of the year. Just once this season has he strung together four consecutive under-par rounds on Tour (Arnold Palmer Invitational). Unless something drastic changes over the next three days it’s hard to think he’s not due for another “all red” week.
Perhaps the most compelling part of Woods’ round is that he rounded TPC Boston, to pinch a baseball axiom, with a five-tool game.
For the day Woods hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation, 8 of 14 fairways and needed 28 putts, including just 13 on his inward loop. It was, by any measure, the opposite of a smoke-and-mirror round.
“I hit a lot of good shots, and on top of that I putted well. It was a nice little combination. I had two really sweet little flop shots there today, which was nice,” said Woods, who has broken par on the weekend just once in his last four starts.
That he did it on a windswept day that challenged both player and caddie will likely give his Tour frat brothers even more to think about.
Midway through Woods’ birdie run a longtime Tour swing coach pointed out how much he has struggled in left-to-right cross winds in recent weeks. “He never draws his driver anymore,” the swing coach pointed out.
On cue, Woods launched a driver high into the clear sky at the par-5 second hole and watched it ride the wind into the short grass.
“It was really tough out there and we didn’t know if it was downwind or into the wind. Then it was shifting from left to right and back again,” Woods said. “It was tricky.”
Nor was this a Royal Liverpool-like day filled with fairway wood tee shots and the ubiquitous stinger. For the day he hit seven drivers on what is considered a “bomber’s ballpark,” finding the fairway four times with the big stick.
On Friday it was the complete package, a combination of power and precision that we haven’t seen, at least on a regular basis, for some time. Other than a tailing drive at the seventh that caught a cart path he was in play the entire day and until his misstep at the last he’d found 13 consecutive greens in regulation.
On Thursday when asked about his lack of consistency Woods reasoned, “It’s just a couple of rounds here and there or it’s an up and down here and there or it’s making one putt, so that’s a good thing.”
On Friday there was no more nitpicking, but then he’s been here before.
He opened with rounds of 69-70 and 67-67 at the U.S. and British Opens only to fade on the weekend and last week’s Saturday-Sunday slide at the playoff opener is still fresh in his memory.
But this feels different, at least it did as he marched off a sun-splashed TPC three strokes shy of the course record. The ballstriking, the driving, the control gave him reason not to fear the weekend. That the Deutsche Bank is scheduled to end on Monday doesn’t hurt either.