By Joedy McCreary / The Associated Press
GREENSBORO, North Carolina—Tiger Woods kept saying his game was getting better, even though his results didn’t show it.
On his first day at the Wyndham Championship, his score finally did.
Woods had his best round in more than two years on Thursday, shooting a six-under 64.
Two-time heart-transplant recipient Erik Compton, William McGirt and Tom Hoge shared the first-round lead at 62.
Morgan Hoffman, Jim Herman and Derek Ernst followed at 63, and Martin Kaymer, Davis Love III and Carl Pettersson joined Woods at 64.
It was Woods’s lowest score on the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) Tour since a 61 in the second round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in 2013.
He and the others took advantage of a low-scoring day at what he called a “tricky” Donald Ross-designed course at Sedgefield Country Club that gave up bunches of birdies after morning showers softened the fairways and greens.
“When it’s like this,” Woods said, “you’ve got to throw darts and go low.”
And while Compton and McGirt threatened the tournament record, the clear story of the day was Woods.
That low score couldn’t have come at a better time for the biggest name in the sport.
He set the tone by holing a 54-foot chip shot on his first hole, the par-four 10th, for the first of his seven birdies.
“Finally,” he said, “I got something out of my round.”
Woods arrived insisting he was playing better than his recent results might indicate.
He had missed the cut in three straight majors and had not finished better than a tie for 17th at the Masters. He’s at No. 187 on the FedEx Cup points list and probably needs a win to move into the top 125 and earn a playoff spot.
Yet, he said after last week’s early exit from the PGA Championship that those results belied the improvement he was making in his game.
“I know it’s crazy to say, but I wasn’t playing that poorly at PGA,” Woods said. “Any borderline shot [at Whistling Straits] I never got away with it, and that’s the way it goes. I felt like I was hitting the ball good enough and just kept progressing, and today was just a continuation of it.”
Especially on that first hole.
His shot from the left side of the green landed about 8 feet from the cup and rolled in.
“I went for the shot, and instead of playing something more conservative, the greens were hard and fast, and I wanted to play something long,” Woods said. “I got aggressive with it, and I went for it, and I pulled it off…. I could see it going in.”
Hoge, playing in the day’s final grouping, made a late charge up the leaderboard, closing his round with a 5-foot birdie putt on the 18th.
Compton, who started on the back nine, finished with a 29 on the front nine with seven birdies in that span.
“Any time you can break 30 in nine holes, you’re obviously doing something really cool,” Compton said.
It’s the latest positive for a 35-year-old who earned his tour card in 2012—four years after his second heart transplant.
He’s chasing his first victory, and so is McGirt, who finished in a tie for eighth here last year. At No. 86 on the points list, McGirt is in virtually no danger of missing the playoffs.
Compton—who’s closer to the cutoff at No. 114—is just trying not to lose any ground.
Meanwhile, for the others closer to the postseason bubble, things are a little more stressful.
Ernst, who’s at No. 178 and is playing in the final tournament of the two-year exemption he earned for his lone victory—at the Wells Fargo Championship in 2013—shot the best round of his four-year career.
But, perhaps, nobody’s dealing with more than Billy Hurley III.
Hurley’s first round came two days after he attended the funeral of his father, who died last week of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The 33-year-old Hurley is at No. 131 on the points list and is only here this week because he’s trying to secure his PGA Tour card for next year.
“It wasn’t really a hard decision” to play, Hurley said, “but it’s certainly hard to do.”
He said he nearly felt overwhelmed on the putting green, “almost didn’t know what I was doing in some ways” during his first handful of holes, then “scrambled my way around” the back nine.
By the end of his 69, Hurley said he “felt like almost a golfer again.”
Image credits: AP