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Pete Sampras had Wimbledon, Ted Williams had Fenway, and Tiger Woods has Firestone. These are the venues that never seem to fail their ruler, even if at times, like a year ago for Mr. Woods, they try to remind you that you are in fact human.
But when Tiger circled the Bridgestone Invitational as his return from injury, and said he felt better than he has in years, it seemed that he knew exactly what he was getting himself into. This was a place Woods has won at seven times in his career, and if you ever needed a moment to realize just how well he knows this golf course, you needed to tune in to the back nine on Thursday as Tiger did what Tiger used to do.
On a great scoring day that had one of the first players out post a 7-under 63 and a multitude of others put themselves into great spots heading into the next three rounds, Tiger got off to the start you'd expect, posting an opening 68 to sit tied for 18th after the first day. A little sloppy with the irons, tee balls going both left and right, but the part that people will be talking about over cold beers this Thursday night is how the putter that has seemed to be so fickle the last year was back and ready to do work. Woods putted brilliantly, saving huge pars on the front nine and carding birdies on the back. His round won't be anywhere close to the low round of the day, but this isn't a sprint for Woods this time, it's just a great engine revving up once more and hopefully for the long haul.
Tiger looked comfortable on Thursday, chatting up playing partner Darren Clarke whenever he'd get close enough to do so, and enjoying the game for the first time in as long as I can remember. Few times did he look disgusted or upset with his game, and even when something like his third shot out of the bunker on No. 14 didn't go his way, he seemed to brush it off, making his only bogey of the day and going along nicely after.
We all knew Woods wasn't going to go out and tie Adam Scott's 62, because that's not really how Tiger operates. He tests the waters on days like this, sees just what game he actually has when every shot matters, and then plays that hand. It wasn't the prettiest round of the day, and he was in the trees just as much as he used to be, but it was the comfort he showed from trouble that was very Tiger-like, if you don't mind thinking back to pre-2009.
If you had to give Tiger's round a grade, you could give it a solid B+. It probably won't lead the nightly sports shows, and it isn't going to make the front page of your local newspaper, but he needed something positive to head forward the rest of this week and the next, and that opening 68 seemed just dandy for Woods.
- Tiger Woods