SHEBOYGAN, Wis. –- The two beered-up fans had clearly worked out the choreography and barked out the same message in unison. As Tiger Woods headed their way, they unloaded their testosterone-laced message.
"Tiger, you the man's man," the knuckleheads said.
|Tiger Woods shrugs off last week's disaster to shoot a solid round at the PGA. (Getty Images)|
Jumping off to a quick start and finishing with a birdie, Woods shot a 1-under 71 in the first round of the 92nd PGA Championship on Thursday, breaking a career-worst string of seven straight rounds without breaking par.
It was just a teeny bit better than last week's complete debacle, when he finished one shot out of dead last, 30 shots behind the winner, and looked like somebody had just lifted whatever was left in his wallet.
There was a fog delay of slightly more than three hours before the round, so Woods joked that he ate breakfast three times while waiting it out. More importantly, the haze and smoke surrounding his game somewhat lifted, too. It was his best performance since the first round of the British Open, when he shot 67 under incredibly benign conditions.
Compared to last week's barrel-bottom meltdown, this was a thing of spectacular aesthetic beauty.
"Yeah, you think?" he said.
Woods came bolting out of the starting gate like last week never happened, making birdies on three of his first four holes to briefly take a share of the admittedly early lead. In a possible harbinger of better things that his fans will love, he one-putted the first four holes.
The round began to wobble when Woods and his threesome turned back into the wind. He hit a few leakers here and there into the facing, bracing breeze, though he managed to scrape it home from there without any carryover carnage from last week, which ended with a 77. Henrik Stenson, sick all week with a virus, was the only guy keeping Woods out of last place, which means there's at least one Swede out there Woods would like to hug.
"I got off to a good start, which was nice," he said, "then I kinda grinded my way around from there."
He gnawed some enamel off his teeth in a few tight spots, like when he hit a crooked shot out of the rough with a long iron on the second hole that looked like a bottle rocket fired at low altitude.
"What the hell happened to that?" Woods complained aloud as fans snickered. "Did you see that ball?"
Fortunately for him, compared to the assortment of misfired missiles last week, he didn't have to ask that question nearly as often.
Woods even salvaged a huge par three holes later when he hit a snapping hook off the fifth tee that sailed dead left into a tule-choked lake that sent some bullfrogs into shock. At least he likely killed a few mosquitoes with it when it splashed down.
About 200 yards away from the nearest fan in the gallery, Woods took out his driver and took his penalty drop, cursing through clenched teeth at himself the whole time. He collected his thoughts, eventually knocked a wedge within seven feet and saved a par from there.
He quickly dismissed what appeared to be a soul-sapping week at Firestone Country Club with the wave of a hand.
"Well, just one week," he said. "That's the way it goes. I mean, everyone has bad weeks."
Generally, not this guy -– at least, not until this year, when there's been lots of noise in his life, within and without. Predictably, Woods was shadowed by a massive throng of fans and media, prompting one guy along the gallery ropes to crack as at the press entourage paraded past, "Dude sucks."
Well, not as much he did a few days ago in Akron.
"Everything was better," he said.
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It's no coincidence that Woods' two best results this year have come at the major championships, fourth-place finishes at the Masters and U.S. Open. Not to suggest that Woods wasn't ready for last week, or not as engaged -– at least until he was hopelessly out of contention and trying just to get off the golf course –- but the Terminator look is showing signs of returning. The majors have always made his antenna buzz.
"I have always loved them," he said.
It's been nine majors since Woods won his 14th, though he missed a couple with knee issues. If he can't get in the mix this week, it's going to be a long eight months until Augusta, especially since his FedEx Cup season doesn't look like it's going to last more than a start or two.
Woods said the birdie on the ninth hole, his 18th of the day, left him with a decidedly better feeling. He knocked in a nine-footer as caddie Steve Williams' words echoed in his ears. And this time, those words were not, "Where did that drive go, mate?"
"It's like Stevie was saying to me, I played too good not to shoot under par," Woods said, sounding like his old self. "It would have been very disappointing and frustrating to end up at even par as well as I played today.
"To make that putt and to shoot under par feels like that's what I should have shot. And that's a good feeling."