Woods, Rose racing in the red

Another day, another sign Tiger Woods is rediscovering old strengths.

Woods, the defending champion at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, wasn’t at his best in Thursday’s opening round of a tournament he’s won seven times since 2000.

He was, in fact, thoroughly outplayed by playing partner Justin Rose, who shot a magnificent 65 to take the early lead by two strokes over John Huh.

But Woods still managed a 3-under par round of 69 that kept him in the top six and within reach of a record-tying win No. 8 at Bay Hill.

“I scored well,” Woods said. “I didn’t drive it well, didn’t hit my irons well and didn’t control my distances well, or my trajectory.

“Other than that, it was good.”

Actually, the best description would be that it was good in parts, like the eagle on 16 after a 350-yard drive left him just a 150-yard pitching wedge into the par 5.

But maybe the greater point was that it wasn’t bad.

At his peak, Woods won tournaments with his B game, and he did it by managing to score well even when he didn’t play particularly well.

Since 2010, Woods hadn’t taken advantage of par fives. But on Thursday, he played them at 5-under par. Also in the last two-plus years, he hadn’t been anywhere near as good as in years past at rescuing rounds with key par saves.

He is, however, remembering.

“Days happen like this,” he said with a shrug. “It just didn’t work out.

“But I scored well and I kept myself in the tournament. I’m right there.”

Woods did make his way to the range after his round, where his swing guru Sean Foley was waiting, but it wasn’t out of panic, as these trips so often have been in recent years.

Foley patiently put Woods through his paces, going over ideas and mechanics that long ago were engrained.

These are good times for Foley, who also coaches Rose.

It’s never easy playing golf in the shadow of Woods, but on an abnormally chilly morning, Rose not only held his nerve, but stole the spotlight.

With the focus on Woods after his impressive wire-to-wire victory two weeks ago on Doral’s Blue Monster, it was Rose who turned heads. He was a lot like Woods at the Cadillac Championship — he couldn’t miss a putt.

The Englishman, ranked No. 5 in the world, astonishingly did not miss in 17 tries from 15 feet and in on Thursday. That explains why he was almost apologetic about his round.

“Obviously, if you had said I would shoot a 65 on the range this morning, I would have probably said, ‘How many holes have I played?’ said Rose.

Graeme McDowell couldn’t believe anyone shot 65 at Bay Hill in cold, wet conditions.

“It was playing really long and tricky,” said McDowell, who finished with an even par round of 72.

“I thought anything in the red today was a good effort, and obviously Justin found a sweet spot out there. He really, really got it going. Seven-under par, I can’t tell you what a good score that is this morning.”

Woods could, given his front row seat.

“He played a beautiful round of golf,” Woods said of Rose. “He had every single facet of the game working.”

Rose, however, was more critical.

“I didn’t play my best, but I got it around,” he said. “Not everything was perfect today, but the putter was really, really hot. And those are fun days.”

Rose said he’s come to learn how to deal with a Woods pairing.

“I think when you play with Tiger, you’ve got to be sharp mentally,” he said. “I think in the first round of the tournament, it just elevates the day a little bit, because he brings the crowd, he brings an atmosphere with him, and I think that helps in a sense.

“It helps get you in the zone.”

Now it’s just a matter of staying there.