ST. LOUIS -- Tiger Woods shot an even-par 70 in the first round of the 2018 PGA Championship at Bellerive, and nobody really knows how he did it. Woods started on the 10th hole and shot a somewhat miraculous 2-over 37 on the back nine of the course (more on that in a minute). He followed that with a solid 33 on the front nine for the level 70.
Woods' first few holes were as wayward as he's been all season. His distances were off. He was crooked off the tee. He was short when he should have been long. He honestly looked lost.
After playing his first two holes in 3 over including a water ball, Woods stepped into a portable bathroom and changed shirts. I'm still not sure if that's because he'd already soaked through the other one or because he was trying to get the stench of a bogey-double bogey start off of himself.
Whatever it was, it actually seemed to momentarily work. Playing partner Rory McIlroy fixed the back of Woods' collar, and Woods hit two terrific shots following the wardrobe change, made a birdie and made just one bogey the rest of the day. It wasn't without stress, though.
Woods played the par-4 15th in about the most Tiger way possible. A badly yanked drive led to a second shot off a tree, which left him 68 yards to the hole. Woods took on a front pin, got it to climb over the front edge and somehow saved par. It was a microcosm of his day. He scored, and you weren't exactly sure how or why he was scoring based on how he was striking the golf ball.
I walked the first nine with Woods, McIlroy and Justin Thomas, and if you would have told me at any point that McIlroy, who was murdering right-to-left drives and pulling the string with his short irons, would not have shot better than Woods, I would bet (and lost) my plane ticket home. They both shot 70.
"Just hung in there," said Woods. "I was trying to grind away at it, pick away at it, and trying to get to maybe 1 over par at the turn and ended up being 2 where it was. Just trying to chip away at it. A par 5 and a couple short par 4s on the front nine. Just keep hanging in there."
Woods made birdie at the 18th hole (his ninth of the day), which seemed to jump start his close. He went on to make two more birdies and get in the clubhouse five back of leader Rickie Fowler after the morning wave finished up. It's not premium position, but considering how badly he was flailing early, it probably feels like he's leading!
Woods has a long way to go to just make the cut, but Thursday was a win after he finished 73-73 last weekend at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. It might not result in an actual win, but Tiger did what he does maybe better than anyone in golf history and summoned a preternatural grind that resulted in a halfway decent score.
"I could have easily gone the other way, being 3 over through two," said Woods. "A lot of things could happen. Not a lot of them were positive, but I hung in there and turned it around."
At one point on that 15th hole -- the one with the miracle par -- Woods grabbed at his bag as loads of fans held their phones over their heads and grinned like the Budweiser had already hit hard.
From far away up by the green, I couldn't see what he was grasping at, but then he held up a large white towel and dried himself off. A marshal behind me told a fan, "See the towel. He's the one waving the towel." The metaphor was almost too easy. At the time it felt more like a white flag. I already had the article written in my head!
Nobody would have blamed him if it was after the terrific season he's had. At 3 over through two holes and a miserably hot St. Louis day ahead of him, the eject button would have been easy to hit.
I briefly forgot, though, this is Tiger Woods. He would play the rest of his round in 2 under. There are no white flags. There's only the next shot.