Tiger Woods' opening round at the Greenbrier was quite the departure from the embarrassing slog at the U.S. Open. Greenbrier is an entirely different course and not the test of Chambers Bay, but Woods pounced on the birdie opportunities to post his lowest opening round since September of 2013. The 14-time major winner finished birdie-birdie-birdie to card a 4-under 66.
The closing birdie streak came just as it looked like the work Woods had put in all day would come undone with an ugly double bogey. At the par-4 6th, Tiger's 15th hole of the day, we saw some of that short game sloppiness that has given him trouble throughout 2015. The sequence included a bladed sand shot and chunked flop shot. The mess-up around the green dropped him two shots and all the way back down to 1-under.
Here's what happened on that Tiger double bogey at No. 6. #QuickHits https://t.co/0FOUfjc4AF— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) July 2, 2015
If the trend of 2015 held, the final three holes for Tiger were going to be a grind where he was just hanging on to stay under par. But he set aside that double, and shot right back up the board with three straight red numbers. The final putt, from 20 feet out, capped his best round since Doral in 2014.
The seven birdies are obviously a boost and welcome change on the card, but a few of the shots he made and his consistency off the tee were the larger developments. After shooting a drive way left into the rough at the fifth hole, Woods fired a dart from the thick stuff to just six feet. Missed birdie putt aside, this swing was one of the more positive signs that he can still make world No. 1 shots when he needs to.
There were shots like that, and then there were the tee balls. Tiger hit 10 of 14 fairways, which is a major improvement in the area that has been his biggest weakness during this awful stretch. The other parts of his game were not as awful as the scores, and actually getting off the tee resulted in 15 of 18 greens in regulation on Thursday. It seems all his troubles start there and if he's not as far away from this swing change starting to produce (as he insists), then maybe he'll be back to competing near the top of the leaderboard again this summer.
As I wrote after his impressive first nine, no one should confuse the Greenbrier with the U.S. Open or even the Memorial. It may be the easiest course on the PGA Tour and one where multiple players often post rounds in the low 60s every day. Tiger's 66 is his best score in a long time, but he's still going to be four or maybe five shots off the lead (Scott Langley was a pacesetter in the AM with an 8-under 62).
The score is a positive mental shift for Tiger, but the more important move is getting the ball in the fairway. That will travel, regardless of how difficult the course is set up. He's the 220th-ranked player in the world right now and doesn't have the form to win the Open Championship in two weeks. But after all these recent career worsts, embarrassing shots, and awful scores, a round like Thursday's 66 is an occasional reminder that there's still some game and maybe he knows the pace this swing change should move at better than those who say he's finished.
His final card (via PGATour.com)
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