Tiger Woods is officially back.
Not back as in "playing Congressional to 7 over" back but back as in "torching the back nine at a major" back.
It was pretty fun to watch, too.
After starting bogey-bogey Woods made five birdies in his final eight holes for a first-round 69. It's not quite the 67 he shot in the first round when he won the 2006 British Open at Hoylake but it was impressive for two reasons.
1. He figured it out as he went. As poor as his start looked, he was locked in on the back side. I don't think I've seen that in a while.
2. He was hitting shots we haven't seen him hit in a while. Stingers, draws (!), and just absolute bombs like the 3-wood he hit into No. 18.
I don't know if those things add up to a week of contention for Woods but they were certainly encouraging if you're a fan of his.
He also found some rhythm around the greens (1.56 putts per green) which he didn't have early on. Here's a rolled in birdie putt at No. 11:
Woods told ESPN's Tom Rinaldi he was nonplussed by his first two holes which were both bogeys.
"Unfortunately I got off to a horrific start, but I fought back," said Woods.
"[I was thinking] 'we got a long way to go. I'm not the only person to make two bogeys in a 72-hole tournament'."
I don't want to overstate this but it felt like Woods was playing more freely than he has in the last year or so. I'm sure part of that is the health of his back, but I would imagine part of it is also returning to a course he knows quite well.
I was curious to see how he would play the par 5s (which he played in 14 under in 2006). He was 2 under on Thursday but that really could have been better. He made two pars and two birdies and got a wayward bounce into a bunker at No. 18.
Most importantly he was striking at them.
Woods, who trailed leader Rory McIlroy by three at the time he finished, told Rinaldi he was encouraged by his play.
"I'm three back, I'm right there in the mix. With the weather expected to get worse over the next couple days it was nice to get this round in."
"It certainly is (confidence-building). I'm faster than I was at Congressional which is nice."
We'll see if it holds up (his game, not his back) but if Thursday was any indication Woods is going to be mixing it up all week at Hoylake.
Speaking of his back. How is it?
"Back is good. I'm only going to get stronger and faster and more explosive."
That might be bad news for the field.