ATLANTA (Georgia) • There will be no greater marketing boost for next week's Ryder Cup should the American Tiger Woods secure his first PGA Tour victory since 2013.
The rejuvenated 14-time Major winner opened with a five-under 65 for a share of the lead at the season-ending Tour Championship on Thursday. The best was reserved until last; he converted from 28 feet for an eagle before celebrating by punching the air as the crowd erupted just like old times.
Over the past 16 competitive rounds, Woods has a very impressive scoring average of 67.5 and US captain Jim Furyk clearly wants him to maintain his form going into next weekend in France.
Woods, though, is simply anxious to take delivery of a long-awaited trophy, which would be the icing on the cake after last year's spinal fusion surgery left him wondering whether he could even walk again, let alone return to the sport.
"It would just enhance the year," said the former world No. 1 of a potential win in the final FedExCup play-off event.
"To be able to play golf again and to earn my way back to this level is something that I was hoping I would do at the beginning of the year, but I didn't know.
"I've done it. I hit so many quality shots all day, whether it was tee to green or it was putts. I didn't really mis-hit a single shot."
Tiger Woods' average score in his last 16 competitive rounds.
While he had opened his round with a three-putt bogey at East Lake, an inward nine of 31 more than repaired that damage.
And as notable as his general play was the fact that a hectic schedule, including qualification for this 30-man elite event, does not appear to have had any physical impact on the 42-year-old at all.
For so long, fitness problems disrupted an epic career. But those issues appear to be a distant memory, with Woods' first-round total placing him alongside Rickie Fowler at the top of the leaderboard.
Fowler had been suffering from a rib injury but resting since the PGA Championship has done the trick.
"It's nice to be back swinging pain-free because I wouldn't have wanted to deal with how it felt the PGA week for a continued amount of time," he said.
Although both players have eyes on the US$10 million (S$13.6 million) FedEx Cup prize, which could be the consequence of victory, Woods' Ryder Cup teammate remains thrilled that he is back in the swing of things.
"I'm definitely happy for him. It's obviously great for our sport. It's great to have him as part of the team next week (too)," he added.
Former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy is also in the hunt after carding a 67, which included seven birdies, proving that he will be a big threat if errors are minimised.
But Bryson DeChambeau, who began the tournament top of the field with 2,000 points, is under threat of losing out on claiming the FedExCup title after a horror opening round. The American is now predicted to finish in third spot, after posting two double-bogeys in a 71 in heatwave conditions.
World No. 1 Justin Rose birdied his closing two holes in a 66 to finish the day in joint-third. The Englishman, second in the standings on 1,800 points, is projected to leapfrog DeChambeau.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN
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