MICHELE NORRIS, host:
In a normal year on the men's professional golf tour, we'd be telling you about today's first round at the British Open and whether Tiger Woods was in position to win yet another major title. Obviously, it's been anything but a normal year on the tour, with Woods' sex scandal and his struggles off and on the course.
Still, Woods did well today at St. Andrews in Scotland. He is among the leaders, and he's showing signs that he may be pulling out of his tailspin.
NPR's Tom Goldman reports.
TOM GOLDMAN: With apologies to all those headline writers for the British tabloids because they do it so much better. The day one headline at the British Open could be: A Round for the Ages.
There was the future - 21-year-old Rory McIlroy from Northern Ireland grabbed the lead with a 63, tying the record for low round in a major championship.
There was the past - 44-year-old American John Daly, golf's bad boy, now with a Lap-Banded stomach and fueled by Diet Coke and cigarettes, he shot a 66 and played like the chunkier John Daly who won at St. Andrews 15 years ago.
And then there was the present - the person who has defined golf's here and now for over a decade.
Mr. PAUL AZINGER (Sports Commentator, ESPN): I think watch out for Tiger Woods.
GOLDMAN: That warning - courtesy of ESPN commentator Paul Azinger - came after Woods, like many in today's first round, took advantage of an uncharacteristically windless first part of the day at St. Andrews. Woods shot a 67, as they say, squarely on the leaderboard.
Mr. AZINGER: Watch out for Tiger Woods.
GOLDMAN: Haven't heard that for a while, except maybe as a punch line to some tawdry joke on late-night TV. Pummeled by the scandal, Woods has sought refuge in seven golf tournaments this season. The fans largely have been positive. His game hasn't. Seven events: one missed cut, one withdrawal, a tie for 46th, two fourth place finishes at the Masters and U.S. Open, but nothing in the win column.
Mr. JIM McLEAN (Golf Instructor): It's pretty bad, you know, beginning of the year - in fact, terrible for Tiger not finishing and really out of sorts, which he never showed any of that before.
GOLDMAN: Jim McLean is one of the country's top golf instructors. He's worked with over a hundred tour pros, never with Woods, but McLean still has seen the toll of this year in Woods' game.
Mr. McLEAN: He's been fighting his swing. The driving has been very sporadic.
GOLDMAN: But as the months have worn on, there have been signs of chaos resolving. Jim McLean sees Woods' swing reverting back to the dominant years of the early 2000s.
Mr. McLEAN: To me, he's looking a little more athletic and not quite as much effort in hitting all these exact positions.
GOLDMAN: Woods appears to be managing the message about his personal life. In the period before the Open, he's been put to the test by a probing British press corps.
Unidentified Man #1: There's been some speculation this week that your divorce may already have been finalized. Can you comment on that at all?
Mr. TIGER WOODS (Professional Golfer): I'm not going to go into that.
Unidentified Man #2: With the recent behavior and the problems you've had, do you ever reflect and then think was it worth it?
Mr. WOODS: I think you're looking too deep on this. Thank you.
Unidentified Man #2: So, I mean, it's not something that you'd...
Mr. WOODS: Thank you.
Unidentified Man #3: Fairly well, I would say.
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GOLDMAN: Woods managed his way around St. Andrews Thursday. The old course fits his game with its wide fairways and big greens requiring good long putting. Woods easily won there in 2000 and 2005.
After his successful first round today, putting him four strokes behind the leader, he sounded more vintner than golfer when asked on ESPN about the players ahead of him.
Mr. WOODS: Just because they're out six, seven, eight, nine under par doesn't mean I have to go get it right now. Let the momentum of the round build, let the round mature and, you know, take your time doing it.
GOLDMAN: With a win at this British Open, Tiger Woods definitely would be making wine out of grape juice, a year of pretty rancid grape juice at that.
Tom Goldman, NPR News.
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