CHIBA, Japan – The shovels were at the ready, the piles of dirt in place to be tossed on Tiger Woods.
After not playing for nine weeks, after returning from a fifth surgical procedure to his left knee, after getting only three weeks of solid reps playing regular rounds of golf, Woods began bogey-bogey-bogey on Thursday in his season debut in the Zozo Championship at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club.
Clearly, the time had come to end any talk of Woods naming himself to the Presidents Cup team. Seriously, it had been four months since he had a top-10 on the PGA Tour and six months since he won the Masters.
And then Woods did a remarkable about-face.
After looking like a chop, he could barely have looked better.
So, go ahead and cue that talk about the Presidents Cup again.
“It was ugly,” Woods said of his start.
He was being kind. It was so bad his caddie, Joe LaCava, joked that he could have made at least one par in the first three holes. It was ugly from the get-go, too, as Woods’ first shot, with a 5-wood on the 10th hole, ended up in a water hazard. A drive into a bunker on 11 led to the next bogey. A three-putt on the 12th was his third bogey in a row.
But it was his last bogey.
After his hideous start, everything looked so beautiful. Woods made nine birdies in his final 14 holes. After missing the first two greens in regulation, he missed just one more. After his three-putt on the 12th, he needed just 20 putts his final 15 holes.
It all added up to a 6-under-par 64 after he looked like he was going to struggle to break 80. And the round included misses from 5 feet twice or two more birdies would have been on the scorecard.
It would’ve been Woods’ first solo lead after the first round since the 2009 PGA Championship but Gary Woodland tied him with a birdie on 18.
Still, the 64 was his lowest round since Woods signed for a 62 in the first round of the 2018 BMW Championship.
“How ’bout that?” Woods said with a huge smile as he headed for the scoring area.
How ’bout that, indeed. After opening 5-5-5, Woods rolling to his first turkey by scoring from 15 feet for birdie on the 14th, from 6 feet on the 15th and from 10 feet on the 16th. A tap-in birdie on the 18th allowed him to turn in 1 under.
Then he had another turkey – birdies from 25, 10 and 17 feet starting at the third hole. Another red number came from 25 feet on the seventh. Then, after hitting an 8-iron 200 yards to six feet, he canned his final birdie.
“I certainly was not expecting to shoot 6 under par after that start,” Woods said. “It flipped and I got hot and made a bunch of putts. My putter has felt good and I’ve rolled it nicely and now I’m just trying to give myself good looks at it, which I didn’t give myself any looks the first three holes.
“It felt like my iron game was sharp and if I can get the ball in a position where I can attack with the greens as soft as they are, I figure I can make a few and I made more than a few.”
After looking as if he was heading toward an 80, now he’s heading toward No. 82 – as in wins, which would tie him with Sam Snead for the most in PGA Tour history. He’s feeling much better after his fifth knee surgery, which repaired minor cartilage damage. The pain last year bothered him to the point he was overcompensating, which led to back and oblique issues, and he wasn’t able to squat to read putts without being in pain.
That’s all gone now.
As is that brutal start to the first round.