A good day for Tiger Woods

DORAL — By mid-afternoon, you could stand at the end of the famed Blue Monster, the 18th green with the isthmus landing and leaderboard in the water, and you could hear what Tiger Woods was doing on his back nine at the World Golf Championship.

You didn't need to see the latest putt to go down, this one from 38 feet for his latest birdie on the fourth hole. You just had to hear the explosion of sound that rolled across the course, like it still does anywhere on one of his good days.

It was the sound of celebration and support and hope — perhaps the sound of hope, most of all. Because Tiger did something in this first round that he didn't all last week at The Honda Classic or in a match-play event before that.

He started to play.

"I thought it was a good round,'' he said.

He made four birdie putts from beyond 15 feet. He stuck three fairway approaches to within five feet of the cup for birides. He had nine birdies, a sixth-month high for him.

By the end of the day, he was tied for the lead at 6 under par.

And, once again, the talk was what it all means. It always comes to that with Tiger. We're into the third year of the second act of Tiger's career, and every tournament remains a referendum on who he is and, even more, what he can become.

It's more than that actually. There's a referendum every round. Every hole. Every time he swings with his relatively new swing. He fed that idea after Thursday's round.

"I'm able to now hit the shots I want with the trajectories and the shape, and I don't get any surprises on distances,' he said. "All of these things have now solidified because it took time to make the change.

"I came from my old swing to now. It's a pretty drastic change. It took a little bit of time."

See, with Tiger, a good day can't just be a good day. It has to framed as a steppingstone to something more, something better, as if the player you once saw will come riding back again.

It isn't just his swing that's solved now. It's his putting. He spent an hour on the practice green Wednesday with Steve Stricker, an elite putter on the tour.

It's always an interesting dynamic, one pro helping another, especially as Stricker sits one shot behind Tiger. Stricker saw Tiger's grip was too strong, his balance too much to the left, his shoulder too dipped.

"Basically, what it is, he got me into the same posture that I was at Torrey [Pines], Woods said referring to his January win at the San Diego course. "I had gotten off a little bit.

"So I felt comfortable, basically just like I did at Torrey, and I started rolling it just like I did there."

This wasn't a defining day at Doral. Forty golfers were under par. Sixteen golfers are within two shots of the lead. The wind, such as it was, went reverse form by actually helping players on many long holes.

"It won't be this easy again,'' Tiger said.

Tiger's performance matters, because golf is more interesting when he's on the leaderboard. No. 1-ranked Rory McIlroy was still struggling at 1 over par.

In fact, as Stricker helped Tiger, Tiger gave McIlroy some pointers after their play together Thursday.

"Am I going to share?" Tiger said of his advice. "No."

He said that with a smile. A chuckle. It was that kind of a day for Tiger, the kind of day that everyone wanted to project into something more. But enjoy it for what it was.

A good day that came with the sound of hope for something more.

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