As Tiger Woods strode down the fairway in a teal-accented shirt and gray pants, the shouts and cheers started up again.
The young boy who stood alongside the rope line, however, didn’t speak much louder than a whisper.
That’s him, the boy said. That’s Tiger Woods.
And on Thursday, in his first round at the Wyndham Championship, Tiger was the Tiger of old. For fans, who showed up in droves, the performance was a treat. Woods poured in four birdies through his first nine holes, and he finished at 6-under-par 64, two shots off the lead. It was his best round since 2013.
“It was nice,” Woods said. “I was making birdies, Brooks (Koepka) made some birdies, Hideki (Matsuyama) got off to a good start, as well. All under par and all making birdies and putts, and I think it was fun, I guess, for everyone because all three of us played well.”
Matsuyama and Koepka are in the top 20 of the FedEx Cup standings, but that didn’t stop fans from jogging to the next hole before they could putt. If Tiger played first, the crowd was gone and racing ahead to the next tee box or green. There was little doubt before Thursday and even less now: the Sedgefield stage belongs to Tiger.
And did he ever deliver. For every near miss – such as the one on the third green when Woods spun his putter in the air after his birdie try burned the right edge of the cup – and choice word (just one today) and exasperated look to the sky, there was a shot that elicited a roar from the crowd.
There was the 40-foot eagle putt on the 15th green that he brought to within four feet and an approach shot on the sixth hole that he dropped within five feet. His birdie on the fourth left him laughing as he shrugged to the surging crowd, and a par save on his final hole ignited the thousands gathered around the ninth green.
This was the Tiger that people came to see.
This was seven-birdies-and-a-patented-fist-pump Tiger, not miss-the-cut Tiger.
He left shots out there, too. He missed the birdie attempt after the approach on six, and while he avoided a three-putt, there were plenty of two-putt pars that might have been birdies.
This doesn’t erase a rocky season. This was one round on a Thursday against a watered-down field. But for many fans, including a man who wore shorts embroidered with little orange tigers, this was the show for which they’d hoped. Tiger’s recent struggles, though, mean they might not have expected it.
Coming off the 10th tee, Woods’ first hole of the day, those concerns seemed fair. His drive settled in the short rough to the left side of the fairway, and course officials hustled people away from the ball. The other Tiger came out for a second. You know, the exasperated one.
He sent an irritated plea toward a camera man to move out of his sight line, but the added room didn’t help, as he sent his approach shot off the green and left of the hole.
But that’s when fans should have realized this wasn’t going to be another ho-hum round for Woods, who chipped in for birdie.
“That was a loud roar,” Koepka said. “I haven’t heard (one) that loud in a long time.”
It’s also been a while since Woods put together a round of that caliber. In front of a sea of supporters that blanketed pathways, bridges and observation platforms, though, Woods put on a show.
Everyone sure seemed ready for Act II on Friday.
DiLalla: 919-829-4835; @AricDiLalla