News & Opinion

Woods’ new world looks a lot like old one

NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. – When Tiger Woods stood 3 under par after his first four holes Thursday at Aronimink Golf Club, I considered tweeting something like, “How soon before we start the 59 watch?”

A bunch of Tiger-haters and Internet trolls wouldn’t have gotten the joke, though, so I didn’t. Then Woods was 5 under through seven; then 6 under through nine; then 7 under through 10.

Somebody get me the number for 9-1-1! Aronimink plays at par 70 for the BMW Championship this week. The Tiger 59 watch was on.

Raise your hand if you thought Woods would be on 59 watch for 18 holes (not nine) this year back in January before his comeback tour got started after a fourth back surgery. If you raised your hand, congrats. Now email me some hot stock tips that I didn’t already get from Jim Cramer.

No way in the New World of Tiger that an 8-under 62 can be disappointing unless he’s playing a par-3 track, but this one was, in a way. Aronimink was there for the taking (scores). It played short because of the hot, humid summer temperatures near 90 that felt like they were straight out of Georgia (Augusta, maybe?). The ball traveled far and rolled far. The greens were big and soft. The fairways were surprisingly wide.

Somebody figured to go low. Woods did it first, giving one back at the long-and-mean par-3 eighth hole (his 17th hole), but meanwhile he surely caused job-slacking in offices around the country as viewers tuned in to see how low his birdie- and eagle-fest would go. Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland matched the score later in the third of four FedEx Cup playoff tournaments. Nice round, but the roars at Aronimink all afternoon were mostly for Woods.

“You could definitely do it today,” Woods said. “We’re driving it down there anywhere between 310 and 340, so it’s really not that long of a course right now. You had to hit your wedges well, get your distance, and you could give yourself 10, 12 looks at putts and get on a hot run like I did and I’m sure Rory did.”

One round can’t possibly have Ryder Cup impact, can it? That biennial event is three weeks away.

But the showing by Woods and fellow Ryder Cupper Rickie Fowler just erased two things from captain Jim Furyk’s List of Concerns.

Woods has been iffy with his putter during his comeback, looking nothing like the greatest putter of all time. Fowler, who missed the first two FedEx Cup playoff events with an oblique injury but now clearly is healthy, picked up where he left off and shot 65. That is a relief for Team USA.

“I’m happy I’m coming back from the injury this early,” said Fowler, who wore bright yellow shoes in honor of his late friend, Aussie Jarrod Lyle (“In the news,” Aug. 9). “You never know exactly how long those things are going to last, and with our sport being rotational-related, having the oblique was a little scary. I’m happy that I’m in a good spot now.”

Fowler, who said he actually had those yellow Lyle shoes at the PGA Championship but didn’t have an outfit to match them then, skipped last week’s event in the Boston area but played 18 holes of golf each day to simulate tournament play and see how he felt. Other than not trying to bust a drive 400 yards, he’s back in business. Furyk had to be the second-happiest about Fowler’s form Thursday.

Woods, meanwhile, pulled out Old Reliable on this day. Old Reliable is his Scotty Cameron Newport 2 GSS putter. Woods won all but one of his 14 major championships with it. The 62 he posted was the lowest first-round score he shot to hold the outright lead since a 61 in the 1999 Byron Nelson Championship. That also was the first round that he used Old Reliable, which was in the bag at Medinah when he scored his first PGA Championship later that year.

Woods clearly has lacked confidence in his putter at times all year, and even though he closed with 64 at the PGA Championship at Bellerive, a little better feel with the putter might have put a little more pressure on Brooks Koepka, the eventual winner.

While the Old Reliable Cameron putter hasn’t been in the bag much while Woods tried other options this year seeking to regain his feel, it never has been far away. You could say it always has been warming up in the bullpen.

“I’ve been monkeying around with it back home and in the backyard,” Woods said. “I know the release point with it, and I know how it swings. My body morphed into a position where it understands where it needs to be to release the putter.

“My body just remembers it. When I was using the Nike putter, I always brought it [the Cameron] out and hit putts with it. Sometimes it works, but it just feels very familiar to me.”

With Tiger Woods putting anywhere close to as well as he did a decade ago, it could be a Ryder Cup game-changer.

There likely won’t be another Tiger 59 watch here this week. The weather is supposed to turn cooler and breezier, and Aronimink could more closely resemble the brute that it really is.

The Tiger watch will continue, though. If you’re old enough to remember the E.F. Hutton tagline, “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen,” then you can relate. When Tiger plays, people watch. Thursday, he was something to see.

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: gvansick@aol.com; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle