PHILADELPHIA (AFP) – Tiger Woods fired his lowest opening round in nearly 20 years to join Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy at the top of the leaderboard in the BMW Championship on Thursday (Sept 6).
The 14-time Major winner and McIlroy have a one-stroke lead after both shot eight-under 62, which marked the American’s best PGA first round since the 1999 Byron Nelson Classic.
Woods, nearing the end of his comeback campaign from spinal fusion surgery, managed an eagle and seven birdies and his only hiccup was a late bogey on his back nine at the Aronimink Golf Course in Philadelphia.
He was joined in the lead by McIlroy, who highlighted his round of 10 birdies with a career-best six in succession, beginning with the last hole of his front nine.
McIlroy though let slip any thoughts of a 59 when he bogeyed his 16th and 17th holes of the round.
This is the first time Woods has shared a PGA Tour lead after any round since capturing the 2013 WGC-Cadillac Championship.
Woods and McIlroy had played a nine-hole practice round together on Tuesday.
The 42-year-old American has made progress all season in his recovery from nagging back pain, leading in the final round of July’s British Open before settling for a share of sixth and taking second in last month’s PGA Championship.
Woods, whose 79 PGA titles are three shy of Sam Snead’s record, began on the back nine and opened with a 20-foot birdie putt at the par-four 10th hole, then added back-to-back birdie putts from 13 feet at No. 12 and 10 feet at the 13th hole.
At the par-five 16th, he landed the ball five feet from the cup on his second shot and rolled in the eagle putt, then pulled off another back-to-back birdie run at the 18th and first holes, the latter from 13 feet.
“I made a few putts today and also from right out of the gate with birdies at 10 and 12 and 13 so that was a nice way to get things rolling,” he said.
“Then to shoot 29 on the front nine helps. It helps a lot.”
Former world No. 1 Woods, now ranked 26th, dropped his approach inches from the hole at the par-four seventh and tapped in for birdie, but missed the green and took bogey at the par-three eighth then answered with a seven-foot birdie putt at his final hole.
Woods believes his recent decision to switch putters also paid off.
“The putter felt good and my body remembered the feel of that putter and how it swings, and I was just letting them rip on the greens,” he said.
“The greens also were just perfect and while a bit on the slow side, they were great.”
McIlroy parred his 15th but three-putted for bogey both his seventh and eighth holes before a consolation birdie at the last.
“What was worst 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 seven 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, is in third place with a 63, while Rickie Fowler, who played alongside Woods, returned from injury to shoot a 65.