It's time to do away with misguided skepticism—Tiger Woods is back.
For a brief moment on Thursday in England at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club, it appeared as if those in doubt of his abilities were correct—Woods floundered early and bogeyed his first two holes.
Playing in in his first major in 11 months coming off back surgery that limited him to just two serious rounds over the course of the last four months—not to mention the fact he had not won a major in six years—it appeared the beginning of a crescendo of bad news for the former world No. 1.
But then something clicked, and Tiger was, well, Tiger.
Resolve, knees and surgically repaired back fully tested, Woods was collected and deliberate in most of his shots on the day while showing no sign of the discomfort that has plagued his play in recent years.
As ESPN's Bob Harig captures, the first round Thursday was nothing more than a confidence builder for Woods:
I knew I could do it. That's why I was telling you guys it was so important for me to play at Congressional. The fact that I was able to recover every day, and the fact that I was stronger, more explosive the more days I played. I'm only going to get better from that point. And I'm getting stronger, I'm getting faster, I'm getting more explosive. The ball is starting to travel again. And those are all positive things.
The adjustment phase for Woods was noticeable on the front nine. After the iffy start, he took a shot back on the fifth hole and wound up with six pars, four of which closed out the front portion of the course.
That momentum proved critical, as Woods parlayed the form into three birdies in a row, as noted by PGA Tour:
An errant shot on the 14th hole hurt momentum, but Woods still made good on the rest of the course by finishing with five birdies on the first six holes of the back end to land him three off the lead by day's end.
In total, hitting 10 of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens cautiously hints at an upward progression over the weekend.
As ESPN Stats & Info was quick to point out, the current pace is quite familiar for those who have strong memories:
But there are causes for concern, though.
For one, the weather was downright perfect, which can be forgiving to even the worst of golfers at times. Woods was certainly helped in this area, especially on questionable strikes with mid-irons on the back nine.
Historically speaking, the end result of his first round is not all that shocking, even for the 2014 edition of Woods fresh out of back surgery. Harig provided a look at some telling numbers that date back to Woods' 2007 performance in England:
|Round||To Par||Scoring Avg|
There's a clear trend in that Woods starts hot before careening down the side of a mountain.
For supporters, of which there are still many as one can glean from the sudden uptick in attention given to the sport once again, the hope is that his ineptitude at majors during his drought had more to do with nagging health issues than anything else.
Thursday, there were no signs of physical ailments. As if to turn back the clock more than six years, Woods concluded his round and proceeded to the practice range for further repetitions to prepare for the weekend.
A weekend that, if it all goes according to plan, will fly directly in the face of his performance the past few years at the event and signal a resurgence of a healthy, top-flight player once more.