The question is, which Round 1? The Round 1 of the 4 to determine the Champion on Sunday? Or the Round 1 of the heavyweight fight to determine the winner on Sunday? The answer, of course, is both.
In the Round 1 of 4, Tiger shares a one-shot lead with Justin Rose at 4-under par, 66. And then there are four guys tied at 3-under, five guys at 2-under and seven guys at 1-under, the most significant being Rory McIloy.
So given the tightness of the leaderboard, we know two things: it’s a long way to Sunday and Tiger won a convincing first round in the heavyweight division.
The difference between the two men was that McIlroy wasn’t as sharp on his approach shots leaving himself improbably long birdie putts. Plus when he did get on close, he wasn’t always able to take advantage of it:
I saw you putting, and you missed some putts that you’ve been making during this stretch?
Yeah, my speed was just off a little bit. I was leaving a few short, and then the ones that, yeah, I just the ones that I missed were a little lack of speed.
But, you know, it evened itself out. I made a good one for par there on 13, and I made a good one for birdie on 12. Lipped one in on 15 for birdie too, so it sort of all evens itself out in the end.
“A little lack of speed” on lightning-fast greens doesn’t sound like much, but it amounted to three strokes in a very competitive leaderboard.
Now Rory’s task is to make up those shots and hope that Tiger doesn’t run away from him in the meantime. But that could be a problem:
Tiger, obviously there are a lot of courses that suit you. But what is it about this place that you perform so well and seem so comfortable with?
It’s one of those courses — I don’t know. I’ve had a few golf courses that fit my eye, but they’re all very different. You know, you’ve got Torrey or Firestone, Muirfield, here, Augusta, they’re all very different golf courses, and I’ve played well on them quite a few times. I think it’s just I prefer the old, traditional golf courses like this. Trouble is just right there in front of you. It’s very simple, but it’s hard.
It’s rare that you see guys go low here, but it’s very simple. Really, not a lot of trouble out here, but guys just have a hard time getting it low out here.
One of the reasons they have trouble going low is that two of the par-5s have been converted to par-4s. So you’re left with a par-70 course that can be stretched to 7,374 yards according to the East Lake web site. The Tour’s web site says that they’re playing it at 7,154, with the truth somewhere in between. Whatever the yardage is, it’s a legitimate test.
If you discount the two worst rounds, the other 28 players are all within six shots of each other, the high end at 2-over with Ernie Els and Lee Westwood being the two surprises there.
In one way, it may be helpful to Tiger’s cause to have separated himself from McIlroy. It goes back to this head-to-head pairings with Phil Mickelson:
You’ve obviously managed this very well over your career, but have you ever at times worried more about the guy you’re playing with? I’m not just talking about Rory, but you try to beat the guy you’re playing with and you lose track of — Jack has said that him and Arnie would do that occasionally over their career, and sometimes they’ve realized that, you know, we can’t just beat each other. Have you ever fallen into that?
I’ve done it a couple of times playing against Phil in the final group, and we’ve gotten run over. We were playing against each other and some guy gets off to a start, and we’re 7‑under through 10, and next thing you know we’re 2 or 3 back. It’s happened a couple times where we just didn’t have the leaderboards, so we don’t really know what’s going on. We’re playing against each other.
Next thing you know, you get through nine, and you look at the leaderboard, and it’s like hello. Now we’ve got to get going. Yeah, it’s happened a couple of times.
So the stage continues to be set for glory and I can’t wait to see if Tiger can continue to hold dominion over these other great players.
When you know that probably any one of them could get really hot and snap off a 62, it spices things up even a little more. And the weather is going to be perfect to the end.