TIGER FINDS FAIRWAYS AND GREENS AND 7 BIRDIES

Tiger Woods looked like Tiger Woods in today’s first round of the Greenbrier Classic. His four-under 66 is his lowest score 15 months and his seven birdies marks the first time he’s had seven or more holes under par in a round since March of 2014.

Tiger got it going early today on the Old White TPC Course in White Sulphur Springs, West Va. firing a three-under 32 on his front nine and got it to four-under midway through his final nine. Whether he can sustain the momentum is debatable. It was a remarkable improvement from his 80-76 rounds at the U.S. Open two weeks ago. And it’s a much better question than wondering when he’ll change coaches again.

Instead of giving back the round after a disastrous double at No. 6 (his 15th hole of the day), he bounced back on 7, 8 and 9 with three straight birdies – or as Tiger put it, “we pulled off a hat trick coming home” –to finish with a 32-34 round of four-under 66. He made three birdie putts in the 15-20 foot range including a pair on his final two holes. Otherwise, it was not a day where a hot blade made up for a mediocre ball-striking round.

In fact, hitting 10-of-14 fairways is ‘stop-the-presses’ good for 2015 Tiger. 15-of-18 greens is more like yesteryear, but really more a result of both hitting fairways and not needing much more than 9-iron into soft greens. But hey, it’s progress. Especially after an impressive Pro-Am Wednesday round where he hit every front nine fairway and struck it well.

The key? Swinging within himself. Tiger loves the longball. Too much. He carried a lake and cranked a drive 320 yards on No. 16 leaving him what looked to be a wedge to four feet for birdie. Hitting it 300 but in the fairway 70 percent of the time is infinitely better for the courses these guys play today than hitting it 320 but twenty feet out of the short hair.

Tiger’s challenge tomorrow will be to remember how much easier the game is when he doesn’t fly it in the high stuff, making him grind over how far recovery shots will fly and how they’ll respond on a course that will have varying amounts of accumulated water from significant rains in the area.

TIGER AND HIS TRYSTS

Tiger is incapable of putting four rounds together that will get him to a low enough number to win at The Greenbrier. My guess is 18-under wins it. Woods is at four, and three more good rounds would get him near double-digits red. But that’s not enough right now against the flat-bellies who are in their prime. Tiger needs to avoid a mid-70s clunker. Or two. Consistent progress like he showed today would put him in good stead heading to the birthplace of golf.

I’m not ready to say after one good round that Tiger can compete at St. Andrews in the Open Championship. But he knows the place like the back of his hand. And being on a weekend leaderboard at a major like he did this spring at Augusta – when he’s not flushing shot after shot – is not impossible.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if The Tryst-man (see definition for trysts’, see the ladies that led Elin to punt him and see the former Mrs. Dufner, who romantic flings apparently led the ski champ to give Woods the boot) was in the hunt at the Old Course? Even better if it was mano y mano against Jordan Spieth, who is chasing the third leg of a potential Grand Slam. The only thing worse than hitting the driver crooked for Tiger going into the Open Championship would be if he were paired with the former Mrs. Dufner’s husband, Jason.  

NUMBERS OF NOTE

-66 is Tiger’s lowest score since 3/8/14 at the WGC-Cadillac Championship

-66 is Tiger’s lowest first round score since 9/12/13 at the BMW Championship

-It was the first time finishing a round with three straight birdies since the 3rd round of the 2010 US Open

It’s only Day 1.