Woods shot an easy three-under 69 in the first round.
Fred Vuich/SI
Friday, March 23, 2012

ORLANDO, Fla. -- After his 18-hole practice round on Wednesday, Tiger Woods declared himself "good to go" for this week at Bay Hill. How'd he look in Round 1? Well, pretty good, actually. I guess he called it. I stepped inside the ropes on Thursday morning to monitor Tiger's left Achilles' tendon, his back, and any other ailment that should happen to pop up, and instead witnessed some solid golf. Not spectacular, but solid. Here's how it went down.

- Nice scene at No. 10, the first hole of the day for Woods and the rest of the 8:26 a.m. group, Ernie Els and Hunter Mahan. Woods arrived dressed in black-on-black, which either meant that today would be all business, or he was planning to be a groomsman immediately after the round. You never know. Anyway, Woods drew the biggest ovation from the crowd and then ripped a driver that cut off the right dogleg for an easy wedge in. He hit that approach a little fat, got a little dirt in his eye, and two-putted for par. No sign of a limp. No sign of a stiff back. Off we went.

- On the par-4 11th Woods busted his low, "stinger" 3-wood about 30 yards past Mahan, who hit driver. Perhaps Woods was a little amped? If he really is healed from his recent Achilles injury, this was his first chance to show it. Woods hit his approach shot onto the front of the green and two-putted for another par.

- Tiger and Els had a nice long chat up the fairway on 12 (possible topics: yachts, wines, putting, etc.) before Woods veered off to play his shot from the right rough. He had a decent lie but was behind a small tree. Woods pulled 3-wood and, Tiger Shot Alert, ripped a bullet under the limbs. His ball chased up the fairway and onto the green. A spectacular shot. His eagle try from about 50 feet rammed the back of the hole and bounced out. Birdie. One under.

- After pars on 13 and 14, Woods was on the tee with the group at the par-4 15th when a confused marshal wandered in front of a hedge that cuts across the fairway, maybe 50 yards off the tee. Woods's caddie, Joe LaCava, was attempting to give Tiger an aiming point when Hunter Mahan's caddie, John Wood, piped up, "Or, just go for that guy's head." The marshal quickly cleared out of the way, and Tiger split the fairway.

- Also on the 15th tee, Tiger pulled a bag of peanuts out of his bag and, unprompted, offered some to Wood. The caddie quickly declined. Why is it newsworthy that Tiger shared his peanuts? Because Hank Haney made it newsworthy.

- Woods's long birdie putt on 15 went around the rim of the hole and dropped, prompting a mini-fist pump. Mahan got up-and-down from the sand for par. On their way to the 16th tee, Woods teased Mahan, "Look at you, you got a short game now!" Mahan cracked up. The group was having fun.

- On the par-5 16th, Woods missed a 70-plus foot eagle try and banged in the five-footer for a birdie to get to three-under and grab a share of the early lead. Mahan eagled and chased his ball into the hole the same way golf media chase a lunch buffet, which is to say, enthusiastically.

- Woods's momentum came to a screeching halt with a three-putt bogey at the tricky par-3 17th after he left his tee shot about 40 feet above the hole. He dropped to two under.

- Tiger made a nice up-and-down at 18 to make the turn at two under. Mahan was one under and Els was even.

- Woods got up-and-down for par on No. 1 and while waiting on the tee at No. 2, it happened: Tiger suddenly looked uneasy, stared at his left leg, bent down, reached for his foot... and tied his shoe. Whoa! Close one there.

- After his approach on the par-4 third hole, Woods unleashed his first audible profanity, "D-----"after hitting his approach to the back of the green on No. 3. He still managed to two-putt for par.

- On the way to the fourth tee, Woods spotted a little boy near the ropes and said, "Quick hands, kid. Quick hands," and tossed him the ball from his pocket. Image control? A random act of kindness? It didn't matter to the boy, who happily snatched it out of the air.

- After a sweet approach shot on the fourth green, Woods blew a short birdie putt and stayed at two under. On his walk to the fifth, that same little boy was waiting for him at the ropes, clutching his new golf ball, and said, "Thanks, Tiger!" Woods couldn't help but smile. I finally tracked down the boy and his father. Turns out it's actually the second ball 5-year-old Nicholas Simpson has received from Woods. Simpson also confirmed for me that Tiger is his favorite player. I always get my interview, golf fans. Always.

- The sixth tee is the spot where Woods tweaked his back on Wednesday after a cameraman's shutter clicked during his follow-through, but Woods fared much better Thursday, where he recovered from an errant drive with a punch-out, a slick approach shot and an 18-foot birdie putt. Back to three under.

- The par-3 seventh was Woods's last great shot at a birdie. He was 10 feet above the hole, and after he called in LaCava to study the putt with him, Woods missed it by an inch on the high side. Par. This round easily could've been three shots lower.

- Woods made par on Nos. 8 and 9 to get in at three under 69. Els missed a short birdie on the ninth to finish at one under. Mahan bogeyed for an even-par 72.

The final stats on Tiger: nine of 14 fairways, 14 of 18 greens, 32 putts, three shots behind leaders Charlie Wi and Jason Dufner. Not too shabby. Afterward, Woods seemed pleased:

"I didn't really do anything great today. I was just solid all day. I drove the ball well. Hit my irons decent and putted all right. I had two 3 putts, but also made a couple bombs out there. It's just one of those days where not a lot [was] going on," he said.

And are the recent injuries affecting him?

"Not in my mind at all, I'm just out there playing, I'm feeling good," he said. "I've been getting treatment. Everything's good. No swelling. If I can just keep it that way, everything will be great."

If he can shoot three-under with not much going on, maybe everything really will be great. We'll soon find out.


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