True to 2012 form, Woods close to lead after up-and-down first day at PGA Championship

Woods shot a three-under 69 on Thursday.
David Walberg/SI

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — Tiger Woods is right where he needs to be after one round of the 94th PGA Championship. That's not quite the same as right where he wants to be, but it's close enough.

There was nothing wrong with his opening 69 that tougher conditions won't fix, but Woods still felt like he was standing still during his Thursday morning round. With soft fairways, soft greens and no wind, the first round on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island resembled target practice.

"I'm playing with Keegan Bradley, and he's three under par through two holes, and you look up on the board, some guys were four under through six and a bunch of guys were three under through five," Woods said. "It was one of those days where everyone was going to shoot six, seven, eight under, but the wind kicked up and changed things. If it had stayed benign, I'm sure you would have had to shoot five under to be in the top 10."

The winds didn't exactly get gusty in the afternoon, just strong enough to be a significant factor.

You've seen this all before, of course. Woods was right there at Olympic Club after opening with a 69 (he shared the lead after 36 holes) and right there again at Royal Lytham & St. Annes after a first-round 67. Here he is again. One of these days…

The most important thing Woods did Thursday was make six birdies. It was a birdie-fest early when the wind was down, and he got his share.

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The second biggest thing he did was make putts. He'd been struggling a bit on the greens of late, especially during the first two rounds at the Bridgestone Invitational in Akron. Not Thursday. He almost ran the table, although there was the small matter of a four-footer for birdie that he gaffed. He needed only 22 putts, which was the fewest of anyone in the field's morning half. He credited some adjustments to his setup that he made last week after the second round at Firestone.

"I came here with the same thoughts and the same feel, and I made a few today," Woods said.

All things considered, it was a very good day for the only man who has won three times on the PGA Tour this year. He found nine of 14 fairways and hit 10 greens in regulation.

"I played well," Woods said. "I'm right there."

Carl Pettersson of Sweden shot 66 early to take a one-shot lead. Gary Woodland, Rory McIlroy, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Alex Noren shot 67s, and eight players, including John Daly, Adam Scott and Bradley, posted 68s.

The round of the day looked like it was going to belong to little-known Joost Luiten, who got to eight under par with four holes left, including a par 5. He bogeyed the last four for 68.

Woods, obviously, needed those six birdies to offset three bogeys and avoid getting left in the dust Thursday.

Woodland, who played three groups ahead of Woods, said: "We got lucky, we had nine or 10 holes without wind. You don't get this very often, and when you do, you've got to take advantage."

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Woods did enough. He had another one of those curious rounds where it was difficult to decide if he'd almost played great or almost played mediocre. There were enough dazzling shots to be impressive and enough poor shots to be dismaying.

It looked as if most of Charleston went out with Woods when he teed off on the back nine at 8:30 a.m. His threesome with Bradley and Martin Kaymer had a huge, swarming gallery.

Woods missed a birdie opportunity at the 11th, a reachable par 5, when he pushed his tee shot to the right into a sunken fairway bunker. By the time he walked around the front of it and came in from the side to play the shot, he was out of sight of the gallery, positioned left of the fairway.

"Boy, he sure disappeared," one fan said.

"Guess we're not going to see him hit his second shot after all," the man's friend said.

Guess not. A few fans clapped politely, though, when Tiger's ball magically appeared down the fairway about 100 yards after he swung. That left him only 40 yards past Bradley's mammoth tee shot. He appeared unhappy with his iron shot, which came up short and right of the green. Then his chip hit the pin and stopped three feet away. He settled for par.

He birdied the next hole from just off the fringe but followed that with a pair of poor bogeys. Woods hit a 3-wood into a fairway bunker at the 13th, close to the lip, and played his next shot out to the left into another of what the PGA wants us to call "sandy areas" this week. He dumped his next shot into a greenside bunker, then got up and down to save bogey.

At the par-3 14th, he missed the green left, didn't get his first chip on the green and then chipped close for a second straight bogey.

Suddenly on the ropes, Woods turned it around just as quickly. He sank an 18-footer for birdie at the 15th.

After driving into the rough at 16 and laying up, he hit a wedge to 10 feet but missed. He made a crucial up-and-down par save at the 17th, holing a seven-footer for par after missing the green left on a sharp downslope.

Then he went on a run. He drove it in the fairway on 18, hit it to 25 feet and sank the long putt. He found another fairway at the first hole, wedged to eight feet and holed a second straight birdie putt.

It appeared that he lost his birdie opportunity at the par-5 second hole when his 3-wood approach shot went left into a bunker, leaving him a long pitch. But he got it on to 10 feet and poured that one in, too. Three straight birdies.

Related Photos: The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island

Woods figured to make it four when he hit an approach shot to eight feet at the third. After shooing away an annoying bee while trying to putt, he didn't get this birdie attempt to drop.

It must've been a momentum-breaker. Woods bogeyed the next hole. He faded his tee shot badly off the tee, enough to warrant the cry of "Fore!"

"Hit a (bleeping) fairway," Woods muttered to himself.

His ball found a water hazard, so he dropped on a flattened dirt area. He played into the sand right of the green, blasted to three feet and made bogey.

He stuffed his tee shot to four feet at the fifth hole, a par 3, but his birdie putt lipped out. He made a nice up and down from a swale for par at the sixth and a routine par at the seventh.

After Woods watched Bradley play a superb shot to three feet at the par-3 eighth, where the pin was back right, Woods did likewise, watching his cut shot roll to within six feet. Both players made birdies.

At the ninth, Woods appeared to mis-club with his approach shot, coming up short in a collection area. He swung angrily at the ground with his club after the shot and uttered an expletive that the TV microphones picked up. Then he made a superb pitch up and over a bunker mound to two feet for par.

Woods said he was pleased with his ballstriking for the most part. "I'm going to do a little bit of work on the range, clean a few things up," he said. "I know what to do."