PARAMUS, N.J. – Not far from the bright lights of the Big Apple, Tiger Woods put on a show worthy of Broadway.
He shot an opening round 6-under 65 to share the early lead with Vaughn Taylor during the first round of The Barclays.
Woods was all smiles after holing an 8-foot birdie putt to complete his round, which ended with his first fist pump on an 18th green in recent memory.
“It’s exciting to hit the ball flush like this again,” he said. “It’s something I’ve missed all year.”
It was his most technically proficient round all season. He hit 13 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens and took 27 putts. When asked if it was his best round of the year, Woods never hesitated.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I had the one stretch at Pebble Beach for nine holes. This time I did it all 18.”
Some may say Woods benefited from soft greens and lift, clean and place conditions. Indeed, Woods acknowledged that he factored all of that into what he called his conservative approach. Woods used driver only twice during the round.
“I just felt for me 3-wood was getting to all the corners. Driver, I actually had to take it over the corner,” he explained. “With ball in hand it’s more important to hit the ball in the fairway, and even if I had some holes 3-, 4-irons into the greens it really didn’t matter. The greens were soft.”
But when he hit the big stick, the results were impressive. Woods’ 290-yard poke drove the par-4 fifth green and he two-putted for birdie. He didn’t hit driver again until the dogleg-right, 470-yard 18th, a “bleeder around the corner” he described as his shot of the day.
“It was just a low bullet fade,” Woods said of a drive that ended with his trademark twirl of the club.
The round marked the first time in Woods’ career that he could remember teeing off in the first group of the day. He rose at 3:50 a.m. for his 7:10 a.m. tee time. When he arrived at the course, Woods said he hit the ball all over the lot during his warm-up session. He credited the extra time he’s spent learning instructor Sean Foley’s swing concepts for his ability to fix his swing on the fly.
“I knew what was the cause of it and just had to work myself through, and I did it,” Woods said. “I made a couple of tweaks on the range and found it.”
Woods recycled one of his favorite lines when asked to describe what “the couple of tweaks” actually were.
“Well, it was backswing, downswing, and follow through,” he said, drawing laughter. “Other than that, it was good.”
But he did share some more details about his hesitation to commit to Foley and the internal debate being waged over whether to revamp his swing for the fourth time in his career.
“You know, for the first, when I worked with Butch (Harmon) it took me a year and a half,” he said of the time it took him to master his new move. “Then my second change with Butch took me almost two full years. With Hank it took me about 18 months or so. That’s a long time before things start clicking. That’s the reason for the hesitation because I know it’s going to take a long time.”
Is Woods, nearing 35 with a surgically repaired knee, with four more majors to match Nicklaus, willing to put in the time? Even he isn’t sure yet.
“Say if it takes less than that, that’s still a long time,” Woods said.
Speaking of a long time, just how long had it been since Woods held a lead on Tour? That would be nearly a year ago after the second round of the Tour Championship in September 2009.
Woods knows it was only Thursday. It was only one round. But it was the type of start that could assure he’s playing long into the FedEx Cup playoffs and not just this week. It also could firm up his World No. 1 ranking, silence critics who question whether he deserves to be selected as a Ryder Cup captain’s choice, and confirm in his mind whether he should commit to a swing change of major proportions. Other than that, it was just another day at the office for Woods.