Tiger Woods flashed some of his old magic on Thursday, holing a 28-foot eagle putt at the 18th to take a share of the first round lead at the Tour Championship.
For one glorious moment at East Lake on Thursday, it seemed like the old Tiger Woods had never left.
Woods began the Tour Championship with an opening round five-under 65 on Thursday, tying Rickie Fowler for a share of the lead. He got off to a shaky start, three-putting for bogey on the first hole, but rebounded with birdies at five and six to get under par on the round.
The highlights that used to come so easy to him returned at East Lake. Behind a tree on pine straw off the seventh tee, Woods managed to get his ball on the green and save par. At the 14th he hit his approach from 206 yards out to within seven feet for another birdie.
It was at the closing hole, a 590-yard par-five, that Woods provided a glimpse of his old magic. Three-under going to the 18th, Woods struck a 254-yard approach to the green which settled 28 feet away for eagle. “Once it reached its peak I started walking,” he told Golf Channel after the round. “I knew it was good.”
He then holed the eagle putt, sending the cheers of the gallery reverberating around the course. Woods says it took a while for the putt to break, but when it finally did he knew he made it. “It was taking forever for that green to take it, and it finally did the last three or four feet.”
It’s already been a miraculous year for Woods. A year ago, recovering from back surgery, he wasn’t sure he would ever play on the PGA Tour again, let alone return at this level. He made clear he was back with a runner-up finish at the Valspar Championship in March, then was in contention on Sunday at both the Open Championship and PGA Championship. When looking back at his game from the start of the year, Woods believes he’s only gotten stronger.
“Everything’s evolved,” he said. “I feel completely different than I did at the beginning of the year. But, the shots are similar but they’re done differently.”
To even get back to the Tour Championship for the first time since 2013 is something Woods is proud of. He comes into the last event of the FedEx Cup playoffs in 20th place, and still has a chance, albeit a small one, of winning the trophy for the third time. Getting into the top 30 was one of his goals at the start of the year, Woods says, because its not easy to get here.
“You’re not going to get an exemption into this event,” he said. “You have to earn it and you have to be part of the top 30 and you’ve got to be consistent and you’ve got to be one of the guys who’ve had a good year. I’ve earned my way back. All things considered it’s been a pretty huge success.”
Fowler continued his solid form on Thursday to tie Woods with a 65. It’s his fourth score of 65 in his last five rounds. Justin Rose, in his first tournament as World No. 1, is a shot back in a tie for third, while 2016 FedEx champion Rory McIlroy and defending cup champion Justin Thomas are in fifth at three-under. Bryson DeChambeau, leader in the FedEx Cup standings, is at one-over.
Woods and Fowler tee off at 2:00 p.m. EST on Friday.