An old friend helped Tiger Woods shoot his lowest score in five years and at the perfect time as he leads the BMW Championship.
After struggling with his putter earlier in the FedExCup playoffs, Woods switched back to the Scotty Cameron that he used to win 13 of his 14 major championships. It was a happy reunion, as Woods shot 62 in the first round. It was his lowest score since a 61 in his victory at the 2013 World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational.
Thursday’s round was an impressive combination of precise ball striking and sure-handed putting. He hit 16 greens, matching his season-high. Thirteen of those approach shots were within 20 feet of the hole.
He needed just 27 putts on the rolling greens of this classic Donald Ross design that was recently restored by architect Gil Hanse. Woods didn’t miss a putt from inside 10 feet – including all four of his attempts from four to eight feet – and holed three putts from outside 10 feet.
This was Woods’ second-best opening round of his career. It looked like the Woods of old, and not just because he was holing putts with the silver Scotty Cameron, which he still tinkers with at home even when it’s not in his bag.
‘I’ve hit millions of putts with it,’ Woods said. ‘I know the release point and I know how it swings.’
He proved that from the start of Thursday’s round. Woods, who didn’t play Wednesday’s pro-am because of the quick turnaround from Monday’s final round at TPC Boston, made birdie on three of his first four holes at Aronimink.
It started with a 20-foot birdie putt on his first hole that quickly confirmed his decision to return to his Scotty Cameron. Woods, who teed off on the 10th in the day’s second group, added a 13-foot birdie putt at the 12th hole and 10-footer at the 13th to quickly reach three under par.
He shot 28 on East Lake’s front nine in the second round of the 2007 Tour Championship. He won that tournament by eight shots to put an exclamation point on his FedExCup-winning season. A win at Aronimink would give him a golden opportunity to become the FedExCup’s first three-time champion.
He would likely move into the top five of the FedExCup standings with a win here. That would allow him to clinch the FedExCup with a victory at East Lake in two weeks.
Woods added another birdie at the 1st, sinking a 13-foot putt to reach seven under. A sub-60 score was within reach on the par-70 Aronimink, which was playing short because of the high heat that has hit the Philadelphia area. Woods changed shirts after just five holes, and he quickly ducked into the shade while waiting for his playing partners to hole out.
Hanse widened Aronimink’s fairways and removed trees from the property. That allowed the field to play aggressively on a course that had been softened by recent rains. Woods wasn’t reluctant to hit driver, averaging 306 yards on all tee shots. He hit nine of 14 fairways and never put himself in a precarious position when he missed the fairway. He said he didn’t hit anything longer than a 9-iron on an approach to a par four.
Woods wasn’t able to keep up his hot putting on his final eight holes, though. He missed three birdie putts from within 20 feet on those closing holes.
‘I gave myself good looks. I hit good putts. They just didn’t go in, which is fine,’ Woods said.
He missed the greens on both of the downhill par threes on Aronimink’s front nine. He flew the green on the downhill, 165-yard 5th hole and pulled his tee shot on the 242-yard 8th hole.
Woods sandwiched two birdies around his bogey at the 8th hole, stiffing his 110-yard approach at the 7th hole before getting up-and-down with a putter from a closely-mown area left of the green on the par-five 9th hole. He punctuated the round with a seven-foot birdie putt on his last hole.
Rickie Fowler, who played alongside Woods, called it a ‘good, solid round of golf.’
‘He hit some close, made a couple nice putts. It was fun to watch,’ Fowler said.
Woods has used three putters in the first three events of the FedExCup playoffs. He switched TaylorMade models after the Northern Trust, which was the fourth-worst strokes gained: putting performance of his career.
At last week’s Dell Technologies Championship, Woods said he had ‘turned a corner’ with his ball striking in the past six weeks, a stretch that included strong performances at The Open Championship and PGA Championship.
‘It’s just a matter of getting one little hot stretch with the putter,’ he said.
He got that Thursday, and it resulted in one of Woods’ best rounds in years.
Credit: PGA Tour