Tiger Woods did something on Thursday he's been unable to do in recent major history: He battled through some horrid shots and posted a score that will carry him to the weekend.
Woods shot a 2-under 69 that felt more like a 10-under 61 with all the great, long par putts he made.
Paul Azinger said before Woods' round that he would be watching his body language, his demeanor. I thought it was absolutely solid all day -- it seemed like he never even blinked.
Woods' round got off to pretty much the worst start possible (see video above) when he yanked his first tee shot so hard to the left that he ended up hitting a second shot as a provisional. He didn't need the second but had to take an unplayable and drop his first. The hole ended in bogey but it could have been a lot worse.
That was the story of the day for Tiger, too. Ten-foot par saves here, up-and-down sand saves from seemingly unplayable lies. He wasn't on but he was grinding during an afternoon when most players struggled to break par.
Woods told ESPN's Tom Rinaldi after his round: "It's so fiery out there. It's hard to wrap your mind around it at times. It's frightening how fast it got."
Of the current top 13 golfers, only three (including Woods) went off after 12:30 p.m. local time. The fairways and greens were playing, as one person on Twitter described them "like glass coffee tables with sand and grass sprinkled on them" and they only got worse as the day carried on.
Woods' reward for hanging on during Day 1 is an early start time (9:44 local time, 4:44 ET!) and, presumably, easier course on Friday.
Curtis Strange said on ESPN he thought the course maintenance crew probably wouldn't mow the course but maybe just roll it overnight. This would slow things down a little bit and give players a chance at stopping their shots on the greens.
Woods noted to ESPN, "It was fine in the morning but by the time we got through there in the afternoon, you could just see the golf course dry out."
I thought Woods played the opposite of how he played the first few days at Merion. Mentally he just seemed totally locked in even though he only shot a 69. Tiger knows you don't win British Opens on Thursdays, but he also knows he could have lost it today because he could have easily shot a 77 with how fast the course was.
He admitted as much afterward saying, "I really played well today. I had to grind it out. More than anything it was just trying to hang around par."
Here's a look at Woods' up-and-down scorecard:
I think Woods' 15th major hinges on what he does on Friday. It should be a perfect setup for him to shoot a 67 or better and if he does, he could be leading going to Saturday. But if he comes out and shoots a 71 or 72 he likely won't have the lead and will probably press a little bit on Saturday to set himself up for Sunday.
And you know how that goes.
No matter how you feel about Woods, his rounds at majors are always fascinating. There was an overhead shot of him on the back nine at one point all by himself in the middle of the green with all the spectators, both caddies, and his playing partner Graeme McDowell all surrounding him on the fringe. It was a great metaphor.
And it was what we're all going to be doing the rest of the week: watching.
Watching to see what he'll follow that 69 up with.
Watching to see if No. 15 is in the cards.
Watching to see what Tiger Woods will do next.