PHILADELPHIA • Tiger Woods' comeback season has gone better than he could have dared hope 17 months ago, when he had his fourth operation to repair a debilitated back.
There have been brilliant late charges up the leaderboard, five top-six finishes and a riveting last day of the PGA Championship, when he shot his lowest final round ever in a Major, sending the galleries into a frenzy as he finished second behind Brooks Koepka.
But victory has eluded him for several reasons: accuracy off the tee, sluggish first rounds and, perhaps most vexing, wayward putting.
So before this week's BMW Championship, Woods found an old friend in the back of his car, the Scotty Cameron putter that he had used for 13 of his 14 Major championship wins.
With the 19-year-old putter in his hands, he turned into the Woods of old in Thursday's sweltering first round, the third of four FedExCup play-off events.
He made several long putts and covered his first nine holes at Philadelphia's Aronimink Golf Club in 29 strokes, his lowest nine-hole total in a PGA Tour event in 11 years, and finished tied with Rory McIlroy for the lead with an eight-under 62.
"I've been monkeying around with it (his putter) at home in the backyard through the summer. It just never felt right, but it feels good (now)," said the 42-year-old, who managed an eagle and seven birdies, his only hiccup being a late bogey on his back nine.
Strokes in which Tiger Woods covered his opening nine holes at the BMW Championship, his lowest in a PGA Tour event in 11 years.
"I know the release point and I know how it swings and my body morphs into a position where it understands where it needs to be to release the putter, because I've hit hundreds of millions of putts with that thing."
It was his lowest round relative to par this year, and the first time he has held a share of the lead after a round since the second day of the 2015 Wyndham Championship.
It was also the sixth time in his career he has recorded nine holes in 29 or better, and on four of those five prior occasions, he had gone on to win. In the other 45 PGA Tour events this year, players holding at least a share of the first-round lead have gone on to win nine times.
McIlroy, who played a nine-hole practice round with Woods on Tuesday, had been a shot clear of the American at nine under after 15 holes when Woods headed for the clubhouse.
The Ulsterman parred his 15th but three-putted for bogey on the next two holes before a consolation birdie at the last.
"What was worse was just not giving myself a better chance to shoot the 59," he said.
"I can accept a bogey on a hole like on the eighth (17th) hole and the bogey on the seventh wasn't good, but you don't get many opportunities to break 60 and today was one of them and I didn't capitalise."
American Xander Schauffele, who hopes to secure the last spot on the US Ryder Cup team, was third after a 63, while Rickie Fowler, who played alongside Woods, returned from injury to shoot a 65. Bryson DeChambeau, a winner in the past two weeks, opened with a 67.
Woods credited his fast start to skipping the pro-am. Instead of enduring a long round with amateur partners in scorching heat, he put in time at the gym, received some physical therapy and spent hours off his feet watching US Open tennis coverage.
NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
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