NORTON, Mass. — Tiger Woods didn't feel like his game was much different from the way he has been playing this year, with a few notable exceptions. He rarely missed a green. For the longest time, it looked like he couldn't miss a putt. And he had his lowest opening round in three years.
Woods ran off six straight birdies Friday in the Deutsche Bank Championship and was nearly flawless until his lone bogey on the final hole gave him a 7-under 64 and a share of the lead with Jeff Overton on the TPC Boston.
His birdie streak began with a two-putt on the par-5 18th, and it featured four putts of at least 12 feet and one flop shot executed so perfectly that it had to clear a steep bunker and land in an area of the green no larger than a hula hoop.
"I played really well today," Woods said. "I hit a lot of good shots, and on top of that, I putted well at the same time. It was a nice little combination."
The start was more meaningful for Overton, whose game has practically disappeared since he played on the Ryder Cup team two years ago. He is No. 83 in the FedEx Cup standings, and only the top 70 advance next week to the third playoff event at Crooked Stick in Indiana — his home state.
"I'm constantly getting a lot of great text messages and people say, 'Hey, we're really excited to see you at Crooked Stick,' just the whole Hoosier nation," Overton said. "It's just going to be fun if I can get into the event."
He had a similar birdie streak, only on the opposite end of the course Overton made five straight birdies through the 16th hole, and then added one birdie on the 18th hole for a 64 that put him atop the leaderboard with Woods.
Louis Oosthuizen and John Senden were at 65 on a glorious summer morning to kick off Labor Day weekend in New England. The wind began to pick up as the early starters were finishing, and it was difficult to judge the right distance as it swirled through the trees.
Woods played with Barclays winner Nick Watney and Brandt Snedeker, two players who are trying to make enough of an impression on Davis Love III to be selected as captain's picks on Tuesday. Snedeker scrambled his way to a respectable 69. Watney, who has never finished higher than 33rd on the TPC Boston, never looked comfortable in his round of 72.
Dustin Johnson, another candidate to get one of the four Ryder Cup selections, opened with a 67.
Getting off to a good start is nothing new for Woods. This was the 14th time in 18 tournaments this year that he was at par or better. Lately, it's been about the finishes. Even though Woods has won three times this year — the most of anyone on the PGA Tour — he has turned in some peculiar weekends. Twice he was tied for the lead at majors going into the final two rounds and stumbled. Last week at Bethpage Black, he had a 72-76 weekend to drop into the middle of the pack.
Woods doesn't seem bothered by all this. He attributed last week to extreme conditions on the greens at Bethpage in the third round, and a final round that simply got away from him on a three-hole stretch on the back nine.
"It wasn't like I was hitting a lot of awful shots," he said. "I just needed a couple putts to go my way, and it didn't happen. I should be right around par, and it turns into an over-par round. Today was about the same as I have been playing pretty much all summer, just go out there and playing pretty consistent. It was just a nice, solid round."
There was a stretch when it all looked so easy.
Woods hit a full swing, flop shot behind the 12th green to a few feet away to save par, the only time he was seriously in trouble. He hit a high cut with a 5-iron to a tough pin on the par-3 11th for birdie from 15 feet, and he holed an 18-foot birdie on the 13th.
The streak began with a 6-iron to the middle of the 18th green for a two-putt birdie. He rolled in birdie putts from the 12-foot to 18-foot range on the next three holes, and while he nearly holed out with a wedge on No. 5, his best work came at the 293-yard fourth hole.
Woods can reach the green with a 3-wood, but he felt the wind gust into his face, and opted for a driver, playing for a baby cut to take off some distance and get it into the front bunker for a relatively easy up-and-down. Instead, it came a yard short of the sand, and he had to play a high flop to a tiny section of the green that ran away from him.
"I had to play an all-out shot to try to keep it on the green," he said. "I went for it, and it came off."
His bid for a seventh straight birdie — the last time he had a streak that long was the third round at the 2005 Masters that carried into Sunday morning — was a 12-footer up the hill on the sixth hole. He took a step toward the hole as the ball was a foot away, sure it was going to drop, when Woods stopped in his tracks as the ball turned slightly to the left. He spun around and removed his cap in disbelief.Comment on this story
As many as he was making, perhaps it was a shock to see one miss.
"Unfortunately, it just wiggled about a half-ball left, where I thought it was going to wiggle about a half-ball right," he said.
The round ended on a sour note, with a 7-iron as the wind briefly died. The ball went into the collar of the green, sitting down just enough that he tried to swing hard enough to generate speed and spin the ball. It didn't work out, and the chip ran 12 feet by. He missed for his only bogey, and tossed his putter at the bag in disgust. Anyone who had not seen the previous 17 holes might have thought it was another tough day at the office.
Instead, it was his lowest score since a 64 in the opening round of the 2009 AT&T National at Congressional.