For the first time in a dozen years, Tiger Woods has started three straight majors with a round in the 60s.
Nothing less was going to suffice Thursday in the PGA Championship.
In steamy weather, with virtually no wind along the Atlantic shore, Woods ran off three straight birdies around the turn at Kiawah Island and kept the round from turning ugly by getting up-and-down for bogey on three holes for a 3-under 69 that left him three shots out of the lead.
He ended his day with a nifty par save from well below the ninth green, a shot that caused Woods to smile and call it "nasty."
"As in nasty good," he said.
Woods knew early on that Thursday morning, with sweat dripping off faces after just one hole, would be the time to score. He had to scramble for par on the par-5 second hole when his tee shot fell into a waste area, while defending PGA champion Keegan Bradley holed a 25-foot eagle putt to reach 3 under.
"Geez, I'm playing with Keegan and he's 3 under through two," Woods said. "And you look up on the board, some guys 4 through six, a bunch of guys 3 under through five. So it's one of those days where everyone is going to shoot 6-, 7-, 8-under par. But the wind kicked up a little bit and it changes things quite a bit. If it had stayed pretty benign, I'm sure you would have had to have probably shot 5-under par to be in the top 10."
Woods didn't hit the ball his best. He took only 22 putts, mainly because he was putting for birdie on a little more than half of his holes.
He saved himself early.
His tee shot on the 13th hole rolled into a bunker, leaving him 178 yards to the front of the green with a swamp to the right. He went to a 7-iron, got it over the lip and turned it left of the green into a gallery. Off a flat lie in a waste area above the green, he tried to bump it along the ground, only it came out soft and rolled into a bunker. He blasted that out to a few feet to escape with bogey.
The par-3 14th might have been the most daunting hole of the day — some 250 yards to a green that drops off in every direction. Woods was left all the way, just over the bunker into a flat lie in the rough with a steep hill in front of him. The chip was weak and stayed in the rough, but a delicate chip left him a tap-in or bogey.
He made up ground around the turn — a 25-foot birdie putt on the 18th, a 10-foot birdie on No. 1 and a bunker shot to 15 feet for another birdie on No. 2.
"Anything in the 60s is going to be a good start in a major championship," Woods said. "And I'm right there."
Woods opened with a 69 at the U.S. Open, had a share of the halfway lead and then stumbled to a tie for 21st. He opened with a 67 at the British Open and was in contention until the front nine Sunday, when he made a triple bogey on the sixth hole.
The last time he had three consecutive opening rounds in the 60s in the majors was in 2000 — a 65 at Pebble Beach, a 67 at St. Andrews and a 66 at Valhalla. In all three majors that year, he was either leading or one shot behind. And he won all three of them, the U.S. Open and British Open by a combined 23 shots.
This is different, but it's a sign of progress.
Bradley wound up with a 68, one shot better. The first-round leader was Carl Pettersson, who made it around The Ocean Course in 66. The morning group had the best conditions, and it was critical for Woods not to lose ground.
His putter was key.
Woods made a few adjustments last week at Firestone and putted better on the weekend.
"Came here with the same thoughts, same feels, and I made a few today," he said.
Woods figures he lost some weight in the stifling heat, though his way was not finished. He headed for the practice range for a session with his coach after a reasonable start that needs to be a little bit better for his Friday afternoon second round and into the weekend.
"I'm going to do a little bit of work on the range, clean a few things up," Woods said. "I know what to do and just need to do it."