PARAMUS, N.J. — Tiger Woods finally looked like the No. 1 player in the world.
In his first tournament since his divorce, he played by far his best round of the year Thursday at The Barclays, missing only one fairway and two greens in a 6-under 65 for his lowest score this year.
That put Woods in front with Vaughn Taylor as the early group of players were still finishing the opening round.
"It feels good to be able to control my ball all day like this," Woods said.
If he keeps the lead, it would be the first time he would be in such position after any round since his Australian Masters victory at the end of last year, and the first time on the PGA Tour since the second round of the Tour Championship last year.
So much has changed since — the car crash after Thanksgiving night, the revelations of adultery, five months away from the game and a broken marriage, which officially ended Monday.
His golf has been very good, either, which is why Woods began the FedEx Cup playoffs 112th out of 125 players.
This was his lowest score in 46 rounds, dating to a 62 in the BMW Championship last year, and the timing could not have been better. He needs a strong week — starting with making the cut — to advance out of the first round of the playoffs.
And while Woods is quick to acknowledge that it was just one round, he could not have asked for a better start: 3-wood into the fairway, pitching wedge to 15 feet below the hole and a birdie.
More followed, even on the par 5s, which have given Woods fits in recent months.
He used his driver only twice, deciding that his 3-wood was enough to reach the corners at Ridgewood without having to take on the tops of trees that line the fairways. Plus, with saturated conditions from rain earlier in the week, tour officials allowed players to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.
"With the ball in hand, it's much more important to hit the fairways," Woods said. It was the first time since the 2006 British Open at Royal Liverpool that he hit his 3-wood off the tee on every par 5.
The two times he hit the driver turned out to be two of his best shots of the day.
With no wind on the 291-yard fifth hole, Woods hit a baby cut with his driver and knew it was good when the gallery packed in the grandstand behind the green let out a cheer that could be heard back on the tee. It landed pin-high and settled 15 feet away, and the eagle putt came up inches short.
Easy birdies have been in short supply for Woods this year.
The other drive came on the 18th, which he blasted more than 300 yards into the middle of the fairway. That left him a 7-iron that he hit to about six feet behind the hole for his 65.
More than hitting into the fairway was the shape the shot required, and pulling it off.
"It was just a low, bullet fade right around the corner," he said. "It was just the shape of the shot, because it was different than most of the 3-woods I played all day. I didn't hold a single 3-wood. I was turning them over. Now, the shape of the driver in the complete opposite direction … and I hadn't hit a driver since the fifth hole."
Only the top 100 in the standings after this week are eligible for the Deutsche Bank Championship.
"I figure if I win, I should be OK," Woods said.
For one of the few times this year, he had reason to believe that was possible.
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