Perhaps it says much about the depths where Tiger Woods has resided that he skipped off a course where he has won seven times yesterday beaming at a 68 which left six shots off the first-round lead. But then, Tiger had his power back. And his eyes announced he feels the glory will be next.
To be fair, Woods had every right to be content. This was his first full competitive round in four months after injuries to his left knee and Achilles. "I was nervous on the first tee," he admitted. And as the drive sailed way right most experts were busy firming up their declarations that Woods would do well just to get in four competitive rounds before next week's USPGA Championship. Yet Woods had declared he was here to win. While the latter is still difficult to believe, the former should be the very least of his ambitions.
This was six shots better than his opening at Firestone last year, when he finished 18-over with just two golfers behind him. As the sun set on a steamy day that was a grim and distant memory. "This is huge progress," said the 35-year-old. "I hadn't really gone at it until today. But I'd done all the work, done all the training, done all the lifting, done all the rehab. It was time to let it rip."
Woods was shocked at how well he ripped it. "I was hitting proper shots out there and the distances I was hitting the ball – I hadn't hit the ball like this," he said, obviously excited about the Sean Foley overhaul. "I was hitting it so flush it was difficult getting my yardages."
His putter deserved complimenting, too. Woods called the huge par saves on three and nine as "key" and the 30-footer for a birdie on the 16th also fell in that bracket. Woods played an outrageous fairway wood from the rough under and around the trees on the par five. The lunge proved not only the fitness of his leg, but also the confidence in his swing. "I smoked it," he said. "I didn't think I could get that far down there."
How far can he go these next three days? Woods's said his objective was the same – win. But with Adam Scott on top the week is much more likely to finish in negative Woods headlines. The Australian's caddie is Steve Williams, the bagman sacked so coldly by Woods last month after 12 years and 13 majors together. How much the Kiwi must have enjoyed his new boss's 62.
While Woods' playing partner Darren Clarke hit a disappointing 77, the best of the Brits was Scotland's Martin Laird on four-under, but there was no one wearing a bigger smile than Lee Westwood. Armed with his new putting philosophy – and the words of a shrink ringing in his ears for the first time in his career – the world No 2 pointed to a future when his performance on the greens matches his mastery everywhere else.
"Even though I've won a few times, was third at the US Open and lost a play-off in the PGA, I haven't had a good putting week all year," said Westwood after his 67. "The frustration point was the Open."
As first revealed in Tuesday's Independent, that missed cut forced him to seek guidance from the mind guru Dr Bob Rotella and the putting coach Dave Stockton. The first inspired Darren Clarke to Open victory and the second inspired Rory McIlroy to US Open victory. Will both of them inspire Westwood to USPGA victory? His mood should not put off any would-be punters. "This was the best I rolled the ball in years," he said, explaining how he had been instructed not to grip the putt as tight and to take just one look at the hole before putting.
Rory McIlroy perfected that trick at Congressional and after coming back from being two-over after four holes to sign for a 68 there is a hint of his mojo returning. The five wood he hit to four feet from 234 yards for an eagle on the second (his 11th) was vintage Rory. This breathless day on a course favouring long-hitters who fly the ball is the reason he is on the brink of a Stateside relocation. "There might be other factors that led to this decision," he said. "But ultimately it's all about the golf."
Woods would say Amen to that.