By Jim McCabe, Golfweek
NORTON, Mass. – No, it’s not one of his playgrounds – not like Firestone or Bay Hill, Augusta or Muirfield Village – but clearly there’s not much about TPC Boston that leaves Tiger Woods mystified.
That’s not to say that what he did Friday to start the Deutsche Bank Championship – as tidy and crisp of a 7-under 64 as one could script – was to be expected, because if there’s one thing certain about Woods, it’s this: Where he once amazed you with his consistent brilliance round after round, tournament after tournament, he now intrigues you for the unexpected stuff he tosses at you.
Getting into contention halfway through the season’s last three majors, only to stumble on the weekend? Stunning, times three.
Eighteen majors in a row without a win? Are you kidding me?
Following a victory at the AT&T National with a missed-cut at the Greenbrier? Surprising.
Four three-putts in one round at The Barclays? Perplexing.
As each surprise fell, the thought became more and more prevalent: Woods was good sometimes, scratchy other times, and pretty much he had morphed into a mortal, and no longer was the immortal who rewrote record books, packed tournament galleries and helped carry the game to heights it had never enjoyed.
Which isn’t to say he doesn’t on occasion remind you of what it used to be like when Woods was on top of his game. Like Thursday.
Oh, it wasn’t so much that Woods did something no one else was able to do, because Jeff Overton also posted 64 and of the morning wave, John Senden and Louis Oosthuizen were both at 66. But it’s the manner in which he went about his business – 10 of 14 fairways, 16 of 18 greens, “and on top of that, I putted well at the same time.”
He used to do that on command? Yes he did, which is why he was able to maintain composure and not get ahead of himself, even though you’d have to go back to the 2006 American Express Championship in England to find a lower first-round score. There’s been a win and two seconds here at the Deutsche Bank Championship, his scoring average at TPC Boston was 68.178 coming into the day, and when you toss in a U.S. Junior Amateur and U.S. Amateur win at courses not far from here, you have to say someone is in a serious comfort zone.
But there’s plenty of golf left and Woods doesn’t need the media to dog him about the times this year when he’s been unable to finish off rounds and tournaments.
On this day, he would ignore that his only bogey came at his closing hole, the par-4 ninth, and savor the highlights, two of which were the sort of plays he used to be famous for.
“Had two really sweet little flop shots, which was nice,” Woods said.
The one at 12 was important because it was just three holes into his round, and was coming on the heels of a birdie. Nothing puts a tour player in a foul mood like putting a bogey up after a birdie, so when Woods hit a brilliant flop shot from behind the 12th green to set up a 3-foot par putt, he smiled.
The smile only grew wider when he birdied the 13th and the 18th to turn in 3-under 32. And when he got to the front, the good times rolled on – birdies at the par-4 first, par-5 second, par-3 third, the par-4 fourth, and the par-4 fifth.
Six in a row, his most explosive burst since he went 7 under (five birdies, an eagle) in a six-hole stretch at the 2007 Tour Championship. (Woods’ personal best is seven birdies in a row, at the 2005 Masters, but that deserves an asterisk as it came over two days.) But it was his second shot at the 298-yard fourth hole that kept him in the flow of things.
Having gone back-and-forth between 3-wood and driver at a hole that can be reached with a solid shot, Woods settled on the bigger club because the wind kicked up. He aimed for a left bunker, came up short, and had an awkward 50-yard pitch.
“The lie was decent,” Woods said. “But I had to play an all-out shot to try and keep it on (a small neck of) the green. I went for it and it came off.”
Brilliantly, yes, and that 4-footer kept a show going that was even something to behold for guys who do this for a living.
“Watching Tiger do that makes you feel like you’re playing a different golf course,” Brandt Snedeker said, his 69 looking so inferior next to Woods’ effort. “He played great today. It was good to see, as good as (he’s played) when I’ve been around him in a while."
Crazy thing is, it could have been even better, because after hitting it to kick-in range at the fifth for his eighth birdie of the day, Woods had a 12-footer at the sixth. He saw it going right, but “unfortunately it just wiggled about a half-a-ball left.”
He then failed to birdie the par-5 seventh, made par at the 213-yard eighth, and hit an approach into the green at the par-4 ninth that got hung up in fringe just above the hole. Attempting a mini-flop shot, Woods didn’t quite pull it off and when he missed the 12-footer for par, his bogey-free day was no more.
That he’s now recorded 20 sub-70 scores in 29 rounds here at TPC Boston . . . that by day’s end he wasn’t even the low man in the Sean Foley stable (Seung-Yul Noh finished birdie-birdie for a blistering 62) . . . that he merely did what he’s been doing a lot this year, which is get off to a solid start . . .
All of that contributed to a feeling that perspective must be maintained, now that he’s settled into the world of mortals.