NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. — A 62 with seven birdies and an eagle. The old Scotty Cameron putter in the bag, for comfort and reassurance. A day of rest after a long stretch of golf.
All looked good for Tiger Woods on Thursday at Aronimink Golf Club, where he got off to a rare fast start in a 2018 tournament and found himself atop the leaderboard with Rory McIloy at the BMW Championship.
But before we go expecting some epic duel with McIlroy this weekend or even an 80th PGA Tour victory, it is best to put it all in perspective.
“Solid but not spectacular,” his how Woods’ caddie, Joe LaCava, described the round. While that might seem harsh, it was his way of tempering expectations and acknowledging what Woods faced.
“It was very solid, don’t get me wrong,” LaCava said. “But it was there to be had. You still have to hit the shots and make the putts. But if you’re hitting the shots, it could be had.”
Tiger, McIlroy scorch BMW with first-round 62s
Tiger Woods shot 29 over his first nine holes and finished with an 8-under-par 62 to hold the early lead at the BMW Championship, the third of four FedEx Cup playoff events. His round was later matched by Rory McIlroy.
McIlroy proved that, as well, matching Woods’ 62 that for a time appeared destined to be a sub-60 score. Four players shot 64. And 48 of the 69 players in the field are under par.
Aronimink, which hosted the 1962 PGA Championship and will again in 2027 — and is where Woods didn’t break in four rounds when the ATT National was played here in 2010 — was not exactly putting up a lot of resistance.
“This golf course is meant to play a little firmer than what it is,” McIlroy said. “It started to firm up a little bit out there late in the round, but when the fairways are that wide and it’s still pretty soft, all these guys are going to make birdies.
“If you carry it 300, 310 off the tee, it’s a massive advantage. The fairways are so wide it doesn’t really test you off the tee. The only thing they can do is tuck the pins away, and you’ve got to be very disciplined to not take on some of the pins and work your all off some of the slopes.”
Woods wouldn’t want to get into a bombers contest with McIlroy, nor with Justin Thomas for that matter — even if he is still able to get the ball out there himself. Woods hit 12 drives that traveled at least 300 yards, an impressive number for someone who is 42 and with four back surgeries in his not-so-distant past.
And Woods is not exactly suited for a shootout. He is far better served at this stage of his career batting in tournaments where a few under par is a good score, where managing his game and grinding out tough pars is the key to success.
That said, he shot that low score on Thursday and he made a bunch of putts after putting the Scotty Cameron back in his bag. Despite oppressive heat, he never appeared to labor and was hitting strong shots until the end. Taking Wednesday off proved beneficial.
Perhaps the best news for Woods is that he finally did not put himself in a first-round hole. For much of this year, Woods has struggled to get off to a good start, whether it be an opening tee shot gone awry, or early bogeys or simply indifferent play that has left him fighting and scratching after 18 holes.
Last week, he was 3 over par through seven holes at the Dell Technologies Championship before shooting an opening-round 72. He finished the tournament 7 under par — but nine strokes back of winner Bryson DeChambeau.
Remember the PGA Championship? Three over par after just two holes. Then he rallied to get back into contention, shooting a final-round 64 and finishing second to Brooks Koepka by a stroke.
Still, Woods has spent a lot of energy this year during second and third rounds trying to catch up. This was just his third opening score in the 60s, and only his fourth under par, in his 17th tournament.
“I got off to a better start than I have most of the season,” he said.
Playing with Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth, Woods made it look easy. He hit 16 of 18 greens. He took advantage of wider fairways and needed just 27 putts. He bested Fowler by three strokes and Spieth by five.
Unlike last week at TPC Boston, Woods also found his range with his approach shots, ranking second in the field on Thursday. And he finally got some putts to drop for the first time since the final round of the PGA Championship.
“I gave myself good looks,” he said. “I hit good putts. They didn’t go in [on his back nine], which is fine. I can accept that. I hit putts on my line, and it drives me crazy when I wasn’t doing that. But today, I did.”
The result was his best score of the year, his best score since shooting 61 more than five years ago at Firestone. Can it continue? It’s too early to go crazy thinking about the possibilities, but Woods did himself no harm Thursday.
“We all benefit from Tiger Woods playing well,” McIlroy said. “I’m happy he’s up there. And it will be a great tournament if he stays up there.”