For the second consecutive event, Tiger Woods started with a round in the 60s on Thursday. Woods, who is coming off a so-so performance at the PGA Championship at Harding Park two weeks ago, was sharp in every area except for one but still very much in contention for his 83rd PGA Tour victory after 18 holes at the 2020 Northern Trust.
The big struggle for Woods at both the PGA Championship and the Memorial before that was his short game (and specifically his putter). All of that improved on Thursday in Boston, and he has a 3-under 68 to show for it going into Round 2.
After shooting an even-par 35 on the back nine (Woods started on No. 10 on the course), Woods caught fire on the front, mostly with an approach game that has remained elite into his mid-40s. Despite hitting just one of seven fairways, Woods had five looks of birdie or eagle from 16 feet and in and made four of them.
Woods’ scorecard at TPC Harding Park a few weeks ago was filled up with 2- and 3-foot putts made. He couldn’t roll anything that mattered into the hole. The opposite was true on Thursday — especially on his back nine — as he made five putts on that side of 5 feet or more.
The interesting thing about Woods since he restarted his season at Muirfield Village a month ago is that he struck the ball beautifully. The iron play has been magnificent. On one hole on Thursday — the par-3 third — he held up his tee ball against the wind on a sweet-looking line and landed it just beyond a back right (and quite tucked) pin. It was a shot somebody who’s a top-10 player in the world hits.
Woods isn’t a top-10 player right now, but he’s hitting his irons like one. The problematic part of his round from Thursday is that a hot putting performance like he put on likely won’t last throughout the week. Tiger will have to hit the ball better off the tee (six of 14 fairways is not great) as there’s plenty of hazards and trouble to be found at TPC Boston, a course where he’s won before. This finally caught up to him a bit on the 9th hole, his last of the day, as he drove it way off line and couldn’t save his par, which would have meant a 67 in Round 1.
As far as playoff starts go, though, Woods couldn’t have hoped for much more. He’s currently just four back of the early lead at this tournament and playing tournament-contending golf. We have yet to see Woods put his full arsenal together for a tournament week this season, but there are flashes that say it’s coming at some point. If and when it does, we could get a special round from him at some point. If he strings a few together, who knows, maybe the 83rd PGA Tour victory of his career isn’t as far away as it’s sometimes seemed.