Tiger Woods' game clicking after 65

August, 26, 2010
08/26/10
1:45
PM ET

PARAMUS, N.J. -- There were a lot of firsts in Tiger Woods' opening round at The Barclays.

As far as he can recall, it was the first time Woods had ever been the first player off the tee on Thursday morning of a PGA Tour event. It was the first competitive round he had ever played at Ridgewood Country Club. It was his first time teeing it up since his divorce was finalized Monday.

And oh, by the way, it was the first time he posted a 65 all year.

Looking eminently comfortable in his newfound surroundings, Woods began the day by striping a 3-wood down the first fairway and ended it with a seven-foot birdie putt on the final green to grab an early share of the clubhouse lead Thursday.

In between, he looked, well, very much like the player who has won 71 times on the PGA Tour as opposed to the one who has remained without hardware in nine previous starts this season.

Leaving his driver in the bag on all but two driving holes, he found 13 of 14 fairways. Hitting his irons with pinpoint distance control, he reached 15 of 18 greens in regulation. And rolling putts with greater confidence, he holed 16 of 17 attempts from inside 10 feet.

It would be too simplistic to suggest that Woods' divorce has unburdened him to the point that he can now focus on his career and play worry-free golf. Asked if the finalization of the end of his marriage felt like a weight lifted from his shoulders, he responded, "I can't really say that's the case."

Those proclaiming that Woods is back after his seven-birdie, one-bogey round should recall similar decrees made during the U.S. Open two months ago, when he posted a back-nine 31 in the third round at Pebble Beach, only to falter one day later, posting a T-4 finish.

Then again, he looked like a different player in the first round of the FedEx Cup playoffs. The man who so often this season has displayed a demeanor mixing disgust, disappointment and disillusion -- head down, shoulders slumped, no rhythm -- appeared focused and determined throughout his round.

"It feels good to be able to control my ball all day like this," Woods said after his Thursday round. "I haven't done that. The one time I hit the ball like this was the nine holes at the U.S. Open, on Saturday. I hit it [like that] all day today and that feels good. It feels good to have the things I'm working on starting to feel more natural."

Woods raced to a 4-under front nine that included driving the green on the 291-yard, par-4 fifth hole, which led to birdie. His only setback occurred on No. 12, when he hit an approach shot in the midst of a roar from an adjacent fairway, later explaining, "I completely forgot what I was doing with the shot," eventually leading to bogey.

He bounced back with birdies on each of the next two holes, then concluded his day with a laser of a drive on 18, bending a fade around the corner for a shot he called the most pleasing of his round, which led to that final birdie.

After the round, we witnessed something else that has been lacking from Tiger's game so far this year.

He was smiling.

"I haven't played this good," he said. "So I haven't been in this position. I mean, look at my rounds. I really haven't done this."

Consider it too early to contend that Woods has returned to his familiar self on the golf course in light of his recent divorce. And yet, for one day at least, he looked very much like that player, spawning hope for the future prospects of his game.

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn.com.

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.

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