Woods gets his mojo back

Tiger Woods hits a shot from the bunker to the 14th green during the first round of the WGC...

Tiger Woods hits a shot from the bunker to the 14th green during the first round of the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, Aug. 4, 2011. (MATT SULLIVAN/Reuters)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:04 PM ET

AKRON, OHIO - There comes a moment -- in all games, matches or, in this case, rounds -- where there's a moment of clarity, a moment of definition.

Sometimes a question gets answered.

For those watching Tiger Woods, it came Thursday afternoon toward the end of his first competitive round in about 11 weeks, having missed that time after reinjuring his left knee (which has had four surgeries, if you're scoring at home) and the Achilles tendon in his left leg.

It came from the right rough of the downward pitching 667-yard, par-5 16th hole from a bit of an awkward lie, the kind of lie that might make you cringe if you were favouring a knee or Achilles tendon.

The sound of the crowd answered the question.

There was that kind of collective gasp indicating awe when Woods ripped a 3-wood 269 yards from that crummy spot to within 79 yards of the flag.

"Oh, I smoked it," Woods said. "I did. I didn't think I could get it that far down there. I didn't feel any problem with that one."

Woods has returned -- again -- and that shot on 16 seemed to show he's physically capable.

He scratched his way to a two-under-par 68 at the Firestone Country Club in the opening round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

On the first nine, he coaxed par putts for some sparkling up-and-downs on the third (from 17 feet), eighth (six feet) and ninth (20 feet) after some mildly errant driving to get to the turn in even par and get his legs under him. He made birdies on the 10th and 11th, bogeyed the 14th and wound up birdieing the 16th from 31 feet after hitting a poor approach from 79 yards.

That one got the huge crowd going.

If there was an issue for Woods Thursday, apart from trailing leader Adam Scott by six shots, it was he was hitting the ball too well.

His work with swing coach Sean Foley has yielded more clubhead speed with what Woods said was less effort and he found himself hitting the ball too far. That's how he made bogey from the fairway on 14, hitting over the green and into a bunker from where he failed to get it up and down.

"That was fun, to be able to hit the ball with that much flush feeling through the golf ball and the speed I had. It was pretty nice," he said.

That development just might be more significant than what appeared to be a clean bill of health. Certainly Woods showed no ill effects when he dropped to line up putts and bounced back up again. Firestone is a hilly layout, but Woods said he is past even having to ice his knee.

If he's healthy and has made as much progress with his swing with Foley as he says he has, then he has come an incredible distance from where we last saw him, limping off the TPC course at Sawgrass after shooting 42 for nine holes.

"I felt nerves out there on that first tee," Woods said, adding he has had butterflies after long layoffs before. "The first tee shot I was pretty nervous. It felt awesome."

As the round went on, Woods looked much more in control. He had better balance and tempo than he has had in recent years.

"My swing was more of a wipey swing, just kind of wiping it out there, so I wasn't getting a full transfer of energy. Now I'm swinging easier," he said after ranking fifth in driving distance on the day with an average of 315.5 yards. "I am not even hitting it hard yet and that's what's fun.

"Today, some of the shots, some of the drives I hit out there, I got my power back."

And some of his mojo, too.

Let's see now what Friday brings.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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