Tiger Woods' trusty Scotty Cameron putter came through in the clutch Thursday to keep him within striking distance of the leaders with a three-over 73 in the first round of the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York.
Woods recorded five birdies, six bogeys and a double bogey during a round in which scoring conditions were more favorable than expected for the morning wave of play. The double came on the last hole to drop him outside the top 50.
The 15-time major champion didn't have his best ball-striking day, hitting 43 percent of the fairways and 50 percent of the greens in regulation, but his putter made up the difference. He gained 2.83 strokes on the greens, which ranked third among all players when he walked off the course.
Woods made three straight birdies starting on the ninth from distances of 30, 23 and 19 feet.
Those were critical moments to help turn things around for the 82-time PGA Tour winner, who'd carded three bogeys over the previous five holes to risk losing sight of the leaders at Winged Foot. Justin Thomas (-5) sat atop the leaderboard when Woods finished his round.
He's practiced with various putters in recent months and made the switch to a long-shaft Cameron Newport putter for the PGA Championship in August, but his results on the greens failed to inspire confidence. He switched back to the Scotty for the FedEx Cup playoffs and added a new grip for the U.S. Open.
"I have changed the routine and some of the things that I've done over the years, but I still go back to what my dad always taught me, which is obviously putt to the picture," Woods told reporters Tuesday. "Whatever I'm working on at that particular time, once I get out there and I putt, just putt."
Consistency has been a problem for the 44-year-old Stanford product since he made his tour return at the Memorial in July. He's failed to record back-to-back rounds in the 60s over his last four starts and finished no better than 37th in any of those tournaments.
Scoring conditions figure to get tougher at Winged Foot over the next three days—the winning score was five over par the last time the event was held at the course in 2006—so shooting in the 60s may prove an unrealistic goal, but he must avoid the poor rounds that have plagued him in recent months.
It starts with better iron play. Woods' driving is typically a little erratic, and the narrow fairways at Winged Foot won't be forgiving, but he usually makes up for any mistakes with his irons. That didn't happen as much Thursday, but his putter came to the rescue.
If he can avoid any massive mistakes off the tee and continue to putt like he did during his prime, even moderate improvement on his approach shots could push him toward contention for the weekend.
Woods is scheduled to tee off the second round Friday at 1:27 p.m. ET.