NEWTON SQUARE, Pa. – Tiger Woods finally had the day he’s been waiting for.
Is this the week we’ve all been waiting for?
Woods shot 8-under 62 Thursday in Round 1 of the BMW Championship, his lowest score of the year by two shots and best since 2013.
And when the day at Aronimink Golf Club was done the leaderboard read:
T-1. Tiger Woods, 8 under
T-1. Rory McIlroy, 8 under
There’s always been a chance this scenario could play out with how well Woods has been playing all year, but he was off the lead entering final rounds at the British Open and PGA Championship. He was chasing the leaders.
Now there’s a legitimate chance at seeing Woods go heads up with the most prolific major champion of the new generation in McIlroy. Or maybe Justin Thomas, who is two shots back at 6 under. How good would that be?
“It would be awesome,” McIlroy said. “Tiger’s sort of been a regular fixture on the leaderboard this year. Carnoustie was a lot of fun with him up there. Even at Bay Hill we were sort of both in contention, hearing the cheers from up ahead. So yeah, it would be cool. Long ways to go.”
Both Woods and McIlroy will be back at it again early Friday, with tee times moved up due to projected rain in the afternoon. Woods goes off at 8:06 a.m. ET, McIlroy at 7:22 a.m.
There’s a lot of golf left, for sure, but Woods made a serious statement Thursday with his old Scotty Cameron Newport 2 putter back in his hands.
“I’ve hit hundreds of millions of putts, I’ve had it since ’99,” Woods said. “My body just remembers it.”
Woods abandoned the new TaylorMade Juno prototype he put in play last week and looked more comfortable from the get-go, starting with a 20-foot birdie drop on his first hole of the day at No. 10.
That set the tone for one of those mornings. The circumstances were big time as Woods shot 29 on the front paired with Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth. It was only the second time in his career he’s gone that low on the back side. The atmosphere was way more casual than expected thanks to a relatively small and quiet crowd.
The three of them walked up fairways side-by-side and it was so subdued that Woods could be heard laughing from 30 yards away.
His wedge game was something serious, though.
Woods ranked second in the field in strokes grained tee to green, third in average proximity to the hole and sixth in strokes gained putting.
It was clear that something special was in play after his approach at the par-5 16th hole, his seventh. He hit a three-iron from 241 yards out and it never left the flag. A 5-footer for eagle from there was no problem.
Woods pured another approach at 18 and made a 4-foot birdie putt to make the turn 6 under, and 59 was definitely in play when he added another 13-foot birdie make on the next hole.
Things slowed down a bit and he played the final eight holes in 1 under par. The guy shot 62 and still left quite a few out there.
“I gave myself good looks. I hit good putts. They just didn’t go in, which is fine,” Woods said of his back nine. “I can accept that. I hit putts on my line, and it drives me crazy when I wasn’t doing that.”
Woods couldn’t make anything in New Jersey or Boston, but otherwise Thursday wasn’t that drastically different from what we’ve seen lately. He just finally capitalized and matched a strong putting day with the rest of his game, with just one bogey at the par-3 eighth.
“The course was gettable, but that doesn’t make it easy,” caddie Joe LaCava said. “It was there to be had if you were playing well and that’s what he did. Made a few putts. It’s been slowly coming, it just hasn’t been there. Today it seemed to click on all cylinders. Had the one double cross on eight and other than that it was pretty flawless.”
Sweat was dropping profusely off Woods’ face when he talked to media on another scorching hot afternoon. That made his decision to skip Wednesday’s pro-am look pretty smart.
He gave LaCava the day off, so the looper had a rare chance to get some laundry done and just chill for an entire afternoon. Woods got a lift in and watched TV.
“I needed it. I really did,” Woods said. “I just played a lot of golf in the last six weeks and I needed a day off to recover and make sure I was fresh for today.”
A warm afternoon meant the ball was flying off the tee and Woods took advantage by hitting driver 12 times. The bombs away approach paid off and he didn’t hit anything longer than 9-iron into a par 4.
“Most of the carries are in the 290-300 range, and in this temperature it’s carryable,” LaCava said. “Might have to play around some of those bunkers instead of over all of them, but for now with the heat we’ll take advantage of them.”
Woods wasn’t the only player to take advantage. Only 13 guys were over par on the round. Xander Schauffele shot 63 to move into solo third and Thomas, Billy Horschel, Peter Uihlein and Alex Noren are T-4 at 6 under.
McIlroy, who also teed off on 10, was in position to take the outright lead after making six straight birdies from hole Nos. 18-5. He also fell off down the stretch with bogeys at Nos. 7 and 8.
“If someone had given me a 62 on the first tee this morning I would have taken it,” McIlroy said. “There’s a lot of good signs out there. My approach play, my wedge play has been much better. I putted well. Basically did everything well and look forward to getting back out there early in the morning and trying to get it going again.”
It all made for one of the most memorable days of the year. Even better when you think about what it might lead to over the weekend.