Sep 07, 2018: Tiger Woods had his lowest round since his last victory more than five years ago, an 8-under 62 with birdie chances on all but two greens and only one bad swing all day.
Woods did his part in the scorching air at Aronimink that made the 7,267-yard course feel like a pitch-and-putt. He didn’t hit anything longer than a 9-iron into the par 4s and didn’t miss a green until his 14th hole. He came within inches of chipping that one in.
“Got off to a better start than I have most of the season. And as of right now,” he said, pausing to smile, “I’m one back. Just the way it goes.”
It didn’t go perfectly for McIlroy, either. He was at 9 under when Woods finished, only to make consecutive bogeys and finish with a two-putt birdie for a 62.
They had a one-shot lead over Xander Schauffele.
“It was one of those days where it was out there,” McIlroy said.
McIlroy could have seen a day like this coming. He finished his pro-am round with a 27 on his final nine, and then reached 9 under through 14 holes. That’s a stretch of 17 under par over 23 holes, even if only 14 of them counted in the tournament.
Woods generated the biggest buzz, though.
He had failed to break part in the opening round at 10 of his last 11 tournaments. This was a big exception.
Woods returned to the same putter he has used to win 13 of his 14 majors — his third different putter in as many weeks — and saw some familiar results. He opened with a 20-foot birdie putt at No. 10, shot 29 on the back nine, and then rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt on No. 1 to reach 7 under through 10 holes.
He didn’t make many more, but he had chances.
Woods was posing on his tee shot at the par-3 fifth, the sun glaring into him, and he couldn’t figure out immediately where it went.
“Is that long?” he asked his caddie. “I thought it was perfect.”
Everything else felt that way to him at that point. His only bogey came at the par-3 eighth, by far the most difficult pin on the course. Woods was between clubs, went with a soft 4-iron and yanked it into the rough. He pitched to 18 feet, a good shot up a ridge and onto a green that sloped away from him. The putt caught the lip.
Woods and McIlroy still had to hit the shots and make the putts.
The wide fairways and temperatures in the 90s that allowed the golf ball to seemingly fly forever made for such low scoring that 48 players in the 69-man field broke par. Rickie Fowler opened with a 65 in his first tournament since the PGA Championship, and at times it felt like he was getting lapped playing alongside Woods.
Jordan Spieth couldn’t keep it in play off the tee and didn’t get under par until his 15th hole. He birdied three of the last four for a 67.
Peter Uihlein, who only advanced to the third FedExCup Playoffs event with birdies on his last three holes on the TPC Boston last week, had a 64 to join a group that included FedExCup champion Justin Thomas.
McIlroy was on the second green when he looked over at Woods, who had just hit wedge to 4 inches for birdie on the seventh hole and was waiting for the green to clear on the par-3 eighth. The crowd was much thinner for McIlroy, but those fans saw quite a show. He holed an 8-foot birdie putt on No. 2, part of a run six straight birdies.
When he was 9 under with four holes left — the last one a par 5 — he started thinking about breaking 60.
Instead, he missed the fairway on his next two tee shots, took bogey from about the same spot Woods was on No. 8, and those hopes were gone.
“You don’t get many opportunities to break 60 and today was one of them,” he said. “And I didn’t capitalize. I’m not going to say it stings too bad because I’d much rather shoot 62 today and win the golf tournament Sunday than shoot 59 today and maybe not win.”