James Lawton: Woods conjures flashes of his old genius

All Tiger needed was an opening drive which dissected the fairway and he got it

Tiger Woods may be obliged to kill a problem inside of him but the hope has always been that something will survive cleanly into the second half of his life. It is called genius and at least some of the evidence in possibly his most draining challenge on a golf course says that it will.

When he went four-under again as dusk began to drop over the pines and the azaleas there was an overwhelming sense that the most dramatic talent golf may ever have seen was, remarkably, not too far from full working order.

He had gone out to face a profoundly doubting world and the first thing he did was prove that if for so many jarring reasons he was in turmoil, there was about his game more than a touch of familiar strength.

Maybe he could stand and fight on the friendliest terrain he had known since driving into a fire hydrant and when he showed some brilliant touches around Amen Corner there was a growing sense that the risk of meltdown predicted by many critics – and some rivals – had been passed.

The course was put on a tornado warning but what was such passing turbulence in the life of possibly the most buffeted golfer in the history of his sport? After 144 days away from competition, there was an maybe an inevitable unevenness about the Tiger's (right) work. His driving was erratic – though in a great triumph of will his first tee-shot in front of an expectant world sailed into a perfect position for him to set up an easy par – and some of his chipping lurched towards the unrecognisable. This cost him a bogey on the 14th, when for the first time the pressure of the day reached him so heavily that he showed his first sign of regressing into the old, ferocious theatricals.

He threw down his club on the fairway, but then, when he a few minutes later chipped poorly, he managed to raise a resigned smile.

After birdies at the third and a brilliant eagle at the eighth, which immediately repaired the damage of a bogey on the seventh, he was facing an earlier threat of a breakdown at the ninth when an erratic drive left the green blocked by a tree.

The Tiger's solution came straight form his old book of sorcery. He hooked the ball around the tree, liked the feel of it and scampered into the fairway to take a better look.

What he saw gave him the most encouraging hint that he might indeed be experiencing the first day of a kind of redemption. The ball was 12 feet from the hole for birdie, so naturally he sank it.

It had been tense progress but from the first tee you could see that this was a man who had resolved to launch his fightback. He did it with a drive that cut through the first fairway with a conviction the Tiger has rarely shown at this point in the tournament he has won four times, but at which until yesterday he had never broken 70 on the first day.

No doubt, though, he would have chosen to banish if he could the circling plane which trailed the message, "Tiger did you mean Bootyism", a sneer at his claim that Buddhism has been installed as his guiding influence.

Still, at the start of his ordeal he shook hands with far more people than ever before at such a moment of pressure. He accepted the encouragement of his playing partners Matt Kuchar, a former All-American boy, and the Korean K J Choi. Green-jacketed officials patted him on the shoulder, shook his hand and the crowd clapped and cheered warmly.

Tiger touched his cap and smiled, a little tensely. All he needed was a drive dissecting the fairway, not hooking into the trees. He got it and we could only guess at the extent of the drop in his heart-rate.

He quickly showed that he was ready to fight against any evidence that another ambush was about to waylay his effort to put away the worst time of his life. This was after he had let some of the more encouraging results of his charm offensive over the last few days here slide, something that provoked near disbelief on the eve of the tournament when Nike, who still swell his bank balance by around $30m (£20m) a year, aired a promotional slot which featured a solemn Tiger and a voiceover of censure from beyond the grave supplied by his late father, Earl.

It was hard to imagine there had been a greater outrage against good taste in the advertising industry, but for many it had to be a devastating symbol of the plight Woods carried to the first tee.

On the eve of the tournament The Golf Channel editorialised against Woods in the most unforgiving manner. They said that not only were Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player the greatest golfers in history, they also had class.

Tiger loyalists might have pointed that Palmer's record of fidelity was not without question marks, that Tom Watson, no less, once accused Player of cheating and that Nicklaus only this week said that the only way he could be persuaded to revisit the Open at St Andrews was by an unspecified amount of hard cash.

For a few hours, though, the Tiger could push such matters into the margins of his pain when he walked out to a warm if slightly less than euphoric applause. What followed was more or less, and if you forgive the expression, pure Woods, three birdies, two eagles and three bogeys, some golf which came from the gods, some of which was the product of a man fighting harder than ever before to make a convincing impact.

When the temptation to throw a club, blaspheme, or even merely pout, was at its strongest, he plainly fought to resist it. He did it well enough, finishing four under but, significantly, just two shots off the pace.

A tornado had been in the air but, who knew maybe the storm in Tiger Woods had passed.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
glastonbury
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Shock of the news: Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Nightcrawler’
filmReview: Gyllenhaal, in one of his finest performances, is funny, engaging and sinister all at once
Arts and Entertainment
Shelley Duvall stars in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining
filmCritic Kaleem Aftab picks his favourites for Halloween
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington has been given a huge pay rise to extend his contract as Jon Snow in Game of Thrones
tv
Life and Style
Taste the difference: Nell Frizzell tucks into a fry-up in Jesse's cafe in east London
food + drinkHow a bike accident left one woman living in a distorted world in which spices smell of old socks and muesli tastes like pork fat
Sport
Luke Shaw’s performance in the derby will be key to how his Manchester United side get on
footballBeating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Life and Style
Google's doodle celebrating Halloween 2014
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Don’t send in the clowns: masks and make-up conceal true facial expressions, thwarting our instinct to read people’s minds through their faces, as seen in ‘It’
filmThis Halloween, we ask what makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?
News
peopleFarage challenges 'liberally biased' comedians to 'call him a narcissist'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes