NORTON, Mass. -- When he shoots 64 -- and just about everything about the Tiger Woods of Friday looked like the Tiger Woods of yesteryear -- then it's only natural to start wondering if all has come together in his game.
This isn't about overlooking everybody else at the Deutsche Bank Championship, or paying too much attention to one player at the exclusion of emerging stars who are competing at TPC Boston in the second event of the four-tournament FedExCup Playoffs.
Woods's impact on golf was and is enormous, which should go without saying. After all, even the impressive 21-year-old rookie from Korea, Seung-Yul Noh, who shot 62 Friday to take the tournament lead by two strokes over Woods, Jeff Overton and Ryan Moore, had no trouble identifying his golf idol.
"I think every junior golfer the same -- Tiger," said Noh, getting his point across quite clearly in English.
These days, everything done by Woods, 36, is a lightning rod for animated discussion...among fans, who will be weighing in with pros and cons before the conclusion of the first round of the Deutsche Bank ends and well after the tournament is over on Tuesday. That's all part of it. Some fans have short attention spans and shorter memories.
So do, as we'll soon see, the greatest players. But for the moment, let's keep a few things in mind: Woods has broken records and made history throughout his career, averaging one win as a pro in every three events as recently as 2009 (six victories in 16 PGA TOUR events). He has passed one legend after another on the all-time victory list, where he now resides at No. 2 with 74 wins, just eight behind Sam Snead's 82.
Old Sam needed 30 seasons to set that record. Woods is in his 17th and just passed Jack Nicklaus' 73 wins on July 1 when he won the AT&T National at Congressional Country Club. Now, there's no gambling allowed here at PGATOUR.COM, but if anyone wants to bet against Woods breaking Snead's record, I'll take whatever you've got in mind.
There is less certainty when it comes to the record he covets most -- Nicklaus's once seemingly untouchable 18 major championship victories, for which Woods is four short. Because he can't make a dent in that one, or fail to, until next spring, that discussion is best left until the dogwood and azaleas are in bloom. More interesting in the here and now is whether Woods can go ahead and take off on a run through the Playoffs, the way he did in 2007 and '09 en route to winning the FedExCup.
By his own admission, Woods played as well as he scored during the 7-under 64 he put up at TPC Boston.
"I hit the ball well enough to probably shoot maybe one of two more," he said. "I missed a couple of little putts out there, but I also made my share from outside 15-20 feet as well."
The stats bear that out: 16 of 18 greens; 10 of 14 fairways; No. 2 in strokes gained-putting; 3-for-5 on putts from 10-15-feet and 2-for-3 from 15-20 feet. After starting on the back nine, where he shot 32, he began a barrage of six straight birdies with a two-putt from 42 feet on the par-5 18th.
He reeled off the remaining putts from: 12 1/2 feet at No. 1; 12 1/2 feet at the par-5 No. 2; 15 feet at No. 3; 4 1/2 feet at No. 4; 6 inches at No. 5. The 64 is his second-lowest round of the season behind only an 8-under 62 in the final round of The Honda Classic in March, and his lowest round in the Playoffs since the 62 he shot in the third round of his win at the 2009 BMW Championship.
And it was more than enough to put him in a good mood about hitting "a lot of good shots and on top of that putted well at the same time."
He enthused about two shots in particular, a couple of "sweet little flop shots," particularly the one at the short, par-4 fourth, a pinpoint wedge from just short of the left bunker on the 298-yarder to set up a birdie.
He wanted to hit 3-wood into the bunker but the wind came up, then died, then came up again and his shot with a driver came up short. He was left with an area of about 18 inches to land his flop shot and pulled it off.
These were the kinds of shots Woods once pulled off with regularity, so it was interesting to see the smile on his face as he described remembering exactly how to do it. Later, he was asked about how he played the 18th hole, where the green size has been reduced by course architect Gil Hanse to make the hole more challenging for those choosing to reach it in two.
The most interesting thing Woods had to say about No. 18, though, had nothing to do with the redone putting surface. It was all about the tee shot, which he took down the split fairway on the left side with a 3-wood because, he said, "I can't cover the 320 to the right fairway."
"Some of the bigger hitters like Dustin (Johnson) and Bubba (Watson) that were playing right ahead of us, that's an easy cover for them. Three-twenty in the air for me? I can't quite get that."
One reporter asked Tiger, "How long since you can't carry 320 and what's that a function of?"
"I've never been able to carry 320," he said matter-of-factly.
I am looking at a video of the 2010 British Open at the Old Course at St. Andrews and Tiger is on the 18th tee on the 381-yard finishing hole in the second round. He takes a cut at this driver and smashes it high and long, to the front fringe over the Valley of Sin, past and nearly into the hole.
About a month ago at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational, Woods hit a 387-yard drive on the 482-yard eighth hole at Firestone Country Club. The course was playing fast, but not almost 70 yards of roll fast. There are other examples, but those are enough.
Perhaps Woods has forgotten how long he once hit it. Or, more likely, he's just playing around, goofing on a reporter or understating what he's still capable of doing. Whatever it is, he's shown that he remembers all the little shots around the greens and most of the putts and how to go low. When it all falls into place, he'll be back to breaking records.
Maybe this week. Maybe not. Either way, what's more compelling than watching history?