On Thursday at the Old Course at St. Andrews, Tiger Woods may not have buried his demons, but he certainly dug them a waiting hole. Three more rounds like this at the Open Championship, and that whole fall-from-grace storyline that's dogged Tiger for the last eight months will fade like an errant tee shot.
St. Andrews was a puppy dog on Thursday morning, and not even a feisty puppy either. With winds blowing no stronger than a breath of air, Woods posted a 5-under 67. He's already four strokes behind Rory McIlroy's astonishing, record-tying 63, but that's not the issue. A strong showing here would be a resounding statement; a victory here would be transcendent.
[Photos: See Tiger's strong start at St. Andrews]
Numerically, this round wasn't his best of 2010; that would be the 66 he recorded in the third round of the U.S. Open. But spiritually, this round had to rank up there with the best openers he's ever shot. A year ago, he missed the cut at the Open Championship, just the second missed cut in his career since 1996. Barring utter disaster, he'll not only make the cut, he'll be within sight of the leaders — if not leading, himself — headed into the weekend.
The round wasn't perfect; Woods drifted several tee shots into the fearsome Scottish rough, and his new putter failed him on occasion. (His near-kick-in putt on 17 didn't even graze the hole.) But at the Open Championship, perfect golf isn't the goal; mitigating disaster is, and Woods managed his game with the kind of expert confidence that we haven't seen in more than a year.
Woods is trying to become the first player to win three Open Championships at the same course. Another major win would leave him just three behind Jack Nicklaus in his pursuit of the unofficial title of greatest golfer of all time. More importantly, another win would push the last shards of his personal scandals off the sports pages. He'll never escape his transgressions, but he'll be able to mute their impact on him and his legacy with a few more rounds like this.
It's a long way to Sunday. But for the first time since piling his Escalade into a fire hydrant, Tiger has taken a good first step.
More Yahoo! coverage of the British Open:
• John Daly adds another memory at St. Andrews
• Stewart Cink's tweet-covered bag brings Twitter to the Open
• Irish phenom's opening-round ties record for a major