AKRON, Ohio – Jason Day has been around long enough to know the drill, and he’s personable enough to make fun of it.
“So let’s just get the Tiger questions out of the way first here,” Day said as soon as he stepped up to the microphone after Round 1 of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
There was no getting anything out of the way. Day answered five Tiger questions and ran out of time. Did not mention his own game once. Basically just threw some killer quotes in there and got out of the way.
“He’s not too far away from going on a pretty big tear here,” Day said. “We just hopefully stay out in front him.”
Day shot 5-under 65 and stayed in front of Woods Thursday, barely.
Woods shot 4-under 66 and kept a clean card for 17 holes before a bogey at his ninth and last of the afternoon.
Once Day was done it was Woods’ turn, and they passed each other on the media platform.
“I told them you were old and washed up,” Day said.
Depends on who you’re asking.
Woods hit just one fairway over his last nine holes, missed some makeable birdie putts early, put forth an average ballstriking effort and still managed a round in the mid-60s on a course he hasn’t played since 2014.
He didn’t even get here until Wednesday morning and had minimal practice time while vacationing in Switzerland after a T-6 finish at the British Open two weeks ago. He played a nine-hole practice round on the front nine when he got here and shot 3-under 32 during his first walk around the back Thursday.
The eight-time Bridgestone winner didn’t need much help around the greens either.
“I didn’t read one putt,” caddie Joe LaCava said. “He knows what he’s doing here. I don’t have to do a whole lot. Probably stay out of his way more than anything.”
Woods hit six of seven fairways in his first nine holes and just 1 of 7 after that. He hit two of eight fairways with driver in his hands, more than he used it in any round at Carnoustie. And he scrambled around this place like the old days, missing just five greens.
“It’s nice to shoot rounds like I did at the Open and like I did today, put together rounds where I may not feel the best but I’m able to post a score,” Woods said. “That’s how you win golf tournaments.”
Woods was three shots off the lead when he finished up and started a tournament with a round in the 60s for the first time since the Arnold Palmer Invitational back in March. He’s been a weekend warrior all year with the lowest Saturday scoring average on Tour, and he won’t have to fight so hard just to get back in the mix this week. He’s already there on Thursday.
“At least this time I’m not as far back,” Woods said. “But tomorrow, you know, I’ve got to go get it again.”
Maybe that’s because there was already a weekend feel to this tournament, with a limited field and players going off in twosomes. If there’s one thing Woods has in common with recreational golfers it’s that he clearly wants to play fast, and he and Day cruised around their first nine at a casual pace in under two hours. Never had to wait over a single shot.
“I think there’s something to be said for that today,” LaCava said. “I don’t think the ballstriking is quite there. He still shot a good round, made a few putts, hit a few good wedges, but I think it definitely helps him playing a little bit faster, yes.”
The biggest putt of the day came out of nowhere at No. 18, his ninth. He drained a 50-footer for birdie to get to 3 under and got a massive roar from the bunched up Ohioans, who needed something to cheer about because the tournament is leaving next year and Ryan Day is currently head coach of the Buckeyes.
The most impressive shot of the day, at least visually, was old-school Tiger taking the road less traveled at Firestone. He missed the fairway at No. 8 wide right and had a tree blocking his approach to the green. Woods hit this ridiculous spinner that worked around the tree to the left and veered right, landed short and left of the green and ultimately carried onto the putting surface 24 feet from the cup.
LaCava thinks about half of the guys in the Bridgestone field could have pulled off the same shot, but that speaks to the quality of this field. Woods nearly made the putt too, coming up six inches short on a day where he scored what he deserved.
“Middle of the road,” LaCava said. “He’d tell you that. Maybe not even middle of the road, he’d tell you. The good news is it’s 66 still, not like we shot 71, but it’s gotta get better. It’ll catch up with him if it doesn’t.”
Woods goes off again at 2:10 p.m. Friday and knows he’s in a good position, even if he wasn’t all that thrilled with Round 1. That means the Bridgestone is in a great position for its final weekend in Akron.
No one summarized it better Thursday than Brooks Koepka, the two-time U.S. Open champ and perfect example of a player who has all the goods and major titles but doesn’t do much for the casual fan.
He was talking about Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els and Vijay Singh, great players whom Woods overshadowed for much of their careers.
“You forget about those guys and how good they were, but Tiger just brought the excitement to golf where that’s not always the case with golf,” Koepka said. “It gets kind of boring.”
Anyone bored right now?