GAINESVILLE, Va. — It seemed like a bad omen when thunder rumbled from above the gray skies while Tiger Woods waited at the first tee Thursday afternoon. Sure enough, the PGA Tour sounded the horns a few moments later and play in the Quicken Loans National was suspended with Tiger, the tournament host, waiting in the on-deck circle. The threesome at 12:55 p.m. would not actually launch drives until about 2:30 due to a passing storm.
Bad luck? Bad omen? Bad karma?
Nope. Tiger Woods turned it all around with one of the better Mongolian Reversals of his career. The air reeked of bad omens when Tiger shakily bogeyed three of the first four holes, but then a Tigermania breeze wafted in as Tiger birdied the first four holes on the back nine.
What could have been a disastrous day turned into a pretty good one. Tiger posted a one-over-par 37 on the front nine and a four-under-par 31 on the back en route to a very respectable 68. When Woods was three over on the opening nine, he wasn’t in the top 100 on the leaderboard. By the end of the day, he’d rallied to finish among the top 35.
It was a pretty good comeback for a guy who hasn’t had many good things happen for him on the golf course this year.
“I didn’t get off to a very good start,” Woods said. “A lot of easy holes out there if I can play a little bit better. I’ve been playing well, hitting the golf ball well. I feel like my putting has been good. Just stay patient, just stay with it, which I did and I had a run there.”
This was only his sixth round in the 60s this season and his best opening round since posting 66 at the Greenbrier Classic. The 68 was his third lowest score this season. Woods shot 66 and 67 at the Greenbrier, and posted a third-round 68 at the Masters, where he finished 17th.
“That’s what scoring is all about,” Woods said. “The last time I did it is probably Augusta. I made a lot of key putts today. I ran them by the hole but I made all the comebacks. Overall, I felt like I hit the ball well enough to turn it around. It was nice to actually turn it around.”
Woods has frequently had issues on the opening hole, especially this year, and Thursday was no exception.
He tried to play it safe off the first tee by hitting 3-wood but the shot finished in the left rough after clanking off a tree. His approach shot found a bunker and Woods missed a five-foot par putt.
Woods drove into a fairway bunker at the second hole but knocked it on the green and made a nice par.
He made another bogey at the third hole despite hitting the fairway. He missed the green left, then left his flop shot short of the green, a bad mistake. His next shot, a chip, stopped five feet away. He holed that putt to salvage a bogey.
A poor approach at the par-3 fourth left Tiger with a difficult putt. He was 58 feet away but had to send his ball into the deep fringe and then let it careen down a slope toward the cup. He made a brilliant stab at it and had the line almost right but the ball just missed the cup and raced 11 feet past. He missed the par putt and took another bogey to drop to three over par.
Woods got up and down from just off the par-5 fifth green for birdie, then got up and down for a nice par save at the sixth after an excellent bunker shot.
He made a rare routine, two-putt par at the seventh, then birdied the other par 5 on the front nine when he reached a greenside bunker in two and played a good sand shot to five feet, which he holed.
That appeared to turn Tiger’s day around. He parred the par-3 ninth hole. His tee shot came up just short of the green in a closely mown area and he was able to putt it close and save par.
Then he got hot.
Tiger hit it to nine feet and made birdie at the 10th, getting back to even par for the day — which was still eight shots off the lead established by Retief Goosen and Ryo Ishikawa in Thursday morning’s wave.
Woods birdied the 11th hole, too, sinking a seven-foot putt to get to one under after watching playing competitor Bill Haas stroke a putt on a similar line.
The streak continued at the par-4 12th. Tiger stacked his approach shot to inside two feet — 17 inches, if you must know, according to ShotLink — and made birdie.
At 13, he sank an 11-footer for a fourth-straight birdie.
Woods had a few birdie chances coming in but wasn’t able to hole any more putts. Still, it was a good finish after a poor start.
“I feel great,” Woods said. “After that start, it was tough to turn it around, which I did. I sucked it up and turned it around and posted a good number and, you know, we got the fresh greens tomorrow. Hopefully I can go out there and post a low one.”
Woods tees off at 8:10 Friday morning on the back nine.