NORTON, Mass. – Tiger Woods got off to a hot start Thursday before even hitting his first shot.
The images of Woods on the practice range rubbing his upper back with a towel and placing a cold bottle of water on the back of his neck was alarming for someone who has endured four back surgeries. He said last month at the Memorial that he has days when his back doesn't feel right.
This wasn't one of them.
Woods had some heating oils applied to his upper back before teeing off in The Northern Trust, and they were a little spicy. He was rubbing off the excess and trying to cool it down with the water.
Once he got on the TPC Boston, it took him a little more time to heat up.
Woods didn't make a birdie until a two-putt on the par-5 18th hole as he made the turn, and then he ran off four birdies in a six-hole stretch on the front nine for a 3-under 68. That left him four shots out of the lead.
“My lower back is used to it,” Woods said about the hot oils. "We do it all the time just so I can get loose. I decided to put some up on my neck, and it's not as tolerant as my lower back, so it gets awfully hot. It's common in pretty much every other sport, and especially hockey. Those guys put some pretty hot stuff on their legs, but you become accustomed to it.
“My lower back is pretty immune to it,” he said. “But my neck is not.”
His 68 was his lowest start since his last victory at the Zozo Championship in Japan, though it's a small sample size. Woods has played only five times since then. Having played only twice since the PGA Tour resumed in June, he has slipped to No. 49 in the FedEx Cup with a goal of being among the top 30 after two weeks so he can reach the Tour Championship.
Woods went back to his old putter — slightly shorter than the one he used at Harding Park in the PGA Championship two weeks ago — and didn't have any good looks at birdie until he reached the par-5 18th in two.
On the front nine, which played about a half-stroke easier, he had more chances and converted most of them. He made birdie on both par 3s, from 15 feet on No. 3 and from 6 feet below the cup on No. 8.
“Whenever I gave myself a look, I made them,” he said.
Both bogeys were set up by poor tee shots, one that hit a tree right of the 13th fairway and left him no shot at the green, and the other on his final hole at No. 9 when he went from the right rough to the shaggy collar of a bunker some 25 yards short of the green.
Still, he made enough birdies over his last 10 holes to get going in the right direction.
“Coming to a golf course I know helps,” said Woods, who has one victory and two runner-up finishes at the TPC Boston.