Woods said he experienced no soreness after his first round. And though he swallowed at least one Advil with a swig of water as he made his way around the course, he said it was not because he was feeling pain. “It’s what my surgeon says to do,” Woods said.
The only thing that seemed to cause him any distress was his putting. He said he struggled with the speed of the greens, which were visibly quicker than in the opening round. But, really, Woods was nit-picking. On the front nine, he had seven one-putts, including four in a row. He finished with 26 putts, one better than on Thursday. But a three-putt at the par-3 12th was still bothering him after the round.
Woods’s grousing about the flaws in his 68 reminded Joe LaCava, his caddie since 2011, of the olden days when Woods, a 79-time winner on the PGA Tour, set the bar so high only he could clear it. After playing the back nine in one over, Woods told LaCava that he had played one good nine.
“Well, you know how he is,” LaCava said. “As soon as he gets back into competition, he’s thinking: Win, win, win.”
LaCava said he told Woods: “You played good all day. You had one three-putt, so what? Put it behind you. It’s not the end of the world.”
LaCava described Woods’s front nine as flawless. According to Golf Channel, it was Woods’s best nine-hole score in relation to par in 1,457 days, since the second round of this event in 2013, when the tournament was held at Sherwood Country Club, outside Los Angeles, and Woods was winding down a calendar year in which he won five times.
“The power and the speed and the length that he’s hitting it, I didn’t think it was going to come this quickly, to be honest,” LaCava said. “I was with him a month ago in Florida and he was hitting it pretty good, but not to this extent.”
He added, “I think everyone was hoping for the best, but this is better than we thought.”
The loudest roar of the day came when Woods’s eagle putt at No. 9 dropped. Among those loudly celebrating was a man, clad in a red T-shirt that read, “Make Sundays Great Again,” who high-fived everyone within reach.
Less than a minute later came the second-loudest cheer, as the volunteers manually moved Woods’s name to the top of the leaderboard behind the ninth green.
The magic carpet ride on the front nine captivated Woods watchers from all over the globe. The two-time Olympic gold medal sprinter Donovan Bailey from…