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Tiger provides glimpse of past with 64 at Wyndham Championship

GREENSBORO, N.C. – The good people of Greensboro waited nearly 20 years for Tiger Woods to play the Wyndham Championship. On Thursday, he didn’t disappoint, electrifying the crowd with a 6-under 64, which was his lowest score in more than two years, and just two strokes off the early lead shared by Erik Compton and William McGirt.

“Finally I got something out of my round,” said Woods.

Finally, indeed. Woods has plummeted to No. 286 in the Official World Golf Ranking. His best result this season is a tie for 17th at the Masters, and he missed the cut at the other three majors, including last week at the PGA Championship. He entered this week’s final event of the regular season ranked 187th in the FedEx Cup standings and needing either a victory or a second-place finish to improve into the top 125 and qualify for The Barclays, the first of four playoff events. In short, he’s done little to dissuade his doubters who say he’s done.

But at Wyndham, with his back against the wall if he wants to keep playing, Woods fired his best score since shooting 61 at the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, which was his last victory on Tour. Woods made putts – he took only 26 – and twirled his irons to signify his satisfaction with shots more times than a drum major in a high school band.

All year long, Woods has struggled with opening-hole jitters, and it looked to be more of the same when he tugged his second shot at the 10th hole. But he caught a break with his ball sitting up in the rough, and he lofted a pitch from 55 feet, then watched as it hopped once and made a bee line for the hole.

“I could see it going in,” he said. “I gave it a little early call.”

But one hole later, Woods displayed the other end of his short-game spectrum, duffing a pitch from the wet Bermuda grass short of the green, leading to what would be his lone bogey of the day.

Before long, Woods settled into a groove and started hitting fairways, which led to birdies from 6 feet at 13 and a two-putt birdie at 15. “It seemed like every time he hit the fairway, he made birdie,” said Woods’ caddie, Joe LaCava.

Sedgefield Country Club is a 1929 Donald Ross design and, at par 70 and 7,127 yards, one of the shortest courses on Tour. Woods was able to hit a steady diet of fairway woods and 2-irons off the tee. When he reached for the driver, it didn’t get him into trouble.

“He only hit one bad shot, on eight off the tee,” fellow playing competitor Brooks Koepka said. “Drove the ball extremely well. I was impressed.”

Woods rolled in a 10-footer at 18 for his fourth birdie of the day and toured his first nine in 3-under 32. When he made a 6-foot birdie at the first, Woods was tied for second. (It’s been a long time since those words were typed.) At the fourth, he rifled an iron to 12 feet. But as soon as his birdie putt left his flatstick, Woods started to walk after it, thinking he pushed it. Not much, apparently, because he stopped in his tracks halfway as the putt sneaked into the hole. All he could do was smile. He added his seventh and final birdie of the day one hole later.

As good as Woods played, we’ve seen this movie before. One good round launches a new wave of proclamations that he’s back. The seeds of confidence could grow in the days to come, but leave it to LaCava to be the voice of reason.

“He needs a round like this,” LaCava said, “but let’s not make it out to be too much.”

Given the soft conditions and preferred lies, scoring figures to be low. Bill Haas estimated 20 under might be the winning score, and even that figure could be light. Woods knows he will have to back up his good round with another one, and probably another two after that.

“When it’s like this,” Woods said, “you’ve got to throw darts and go low.”

For one day, at least, Woods got some support from his flatstick. In addition to making birdie putts of 6-12 feet with regularity, Woods made round-saving par putts at 16 and at the ninth, his last hole of the day.

“I feel more energetic when I make those putts than I do a birdie,” Woods said.

That energy was contagious. Seeing Woods’ name shoot up the leaderboard sent the crowd into a frenzy. It had a similar effect on Koepka.

“If you can’t get amped up for Tiger Woods, there’s something wrong with you,” said the long-hitting Koepka, who shot 67. “It gets the blood flowing. You have no problem waking up this morning, I promise you that.”

Not on a morning when Woods awakened the echoes of his greatness.

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