Thirty-two months ago, the greatest golfer in the world was broken.
The legend so carefully crafted — and gladly accepted by corporations and fans alike — of a real-life superman called Tiger Woods lay in pieces.
Woods was too defeated, deflated, ashamed and angry — and then too injured — to even think of putting the pieces back together.
But for a while now, at least since last August, he’s been busily reconstructing the champion he once was. It’s a complex puzzle, however, and just because he has all the pieces — or at least believes he does — doesn’t mean he knows how they all fit together.
And so it was on Thursday, as the fire-breathing dragon known as Royal Lytham & St. Annes turned out to be myth and instead the John Deere Classic rolled into a second week; the birdie festival moved from the American Midwest to the Lancashire coast.
After weeks of wind and rain and misery — in other words, your garden variety English summer — the first day of the 141st British Open was as pleasant as it gets around here. Woods, teeing off early, knew that without the elements to defend them, links courses can be plundered.
And he also knew that those around him, including Australian Adam Scott, who tied the course record with a 6-under 64, weren’t happy to settle for pars, so he had to make a move. And he did, shooting a 3-under 67 that left him tied for sixth.
“It was pretty soft,” Woods said. “The wind wasn’t blowing and we’re backing golf balls up (on the greens). That’s something we just don’t see.
“The first hole is a perfect indication; I hit a 5-iron straight at it and it rolled out (only) 8 feet. I can’t remember the last time it does that on a links golf course.
“We knew we needed at least to get off to a quick start on that front nine, and I figured a couple under would have been good. But I look up on the board and Scotty is going pretty low and so is everyone else. I felt I had to make a few more, and I was able to.”
So far, so good.
Woods jumped out to 4 under after tapping in for birdie on the par-5 seventh. At the time, he was tied with Scott for the early lead, and soon they would be joined by Masters champion Bubba Watson, with John Deere Classic winner Zach Johnson and 1999 British Open champion Paul Lawrie also in the mix after posting 65s.
But it’s what happened after Woods got to 4 under that betrays the fact that he’s still got work to do to reassemble the old Tiger, whose killer instinct back in the day would’ve gotten him to the top of the leaderboard.
The first indication that something was amiss came on the ninth, which Woods played beautifully — as he had every hole until then — only to miss a 6-footer for birdie.
The back nine at Lytham is traditionally where the going gets tough. But without the prevailing winds, it was a stroll in the park.
For everyone, that is, except Woods.
Someone named Adilson da Silva shot 32 on the inward nine, as did Scott, with Lawrie and Johnson coming home in 3 under. Woods, however, played the closing nine in 1 over par.
All pars and a lone bogey, which he was happy to escape with after badly misjudging a shot from the rough on the 15th, then almost losing his ball in the thick stuff before finding it and somehow hacking it onto the green, from where he two-putted.
Afterward, Woods was quite upbeat — he rarely betrays much after rounds at majors — though it had to bother him that he hit every fairway but one and led the field with 15 greens hit in regulation only to miss numerous birdie putts.
A 3-under 67 is hardly a bad score, but he knows it could’ve been much, much better.
“I hit the ball well all day, shaping the ball both ways; sometimes I rode the wind, sometimes I held it against it,” he said. “I was just lacking a little bit of pace on the greens coming home. Every putt I hit was on line, except for the one I hit on 12. But they were dying off the front of the lip.
“So I need to hit the putts a little bit firmer.”
Overall, he was “quite pleased with what I did today."
But, he added, "We’ve got a long way to go.”
Whether he personally does or not, we’ll know by Sunday.