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The new Tiger may not be so bad after all

Associated Press Modified: January 28, 2011 at 2:21 am •  Published: January 27, 2011

SAN DIEGO (AP) — It began, as it usually does, on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, in a place Tiger Woods holds dear.

A perfect way to start the season. A perfect time to start anew.

The day before, Woods had declared his head to be as clear as the brilliant blue Southern California sky. Now, as Rocco Mediate finished off a nasty 3-putt on the 7th green, Woods pondered the only issue that seemed to be bothering him on this day.

"Why does Roc still have that vest on?" he asked. "It's like a winter jacket or something."

It certainly wasn't to ward off the cold on the north course at Torrey Pines. The substantial crowds following Woods and the man who gave him a memorable run at the 2008 U.S. Open here were so sunbaked in 75-degree weather they could work up little more than polite applause anytime Woods did something to remind them of the legend he once was.

The last time he played here he won an epic Open on one leg, then hugged his wife and kids in one of those special moments you see every so often in sports. Nothing seemed impossible then for the world's greatest player as he collected his 14th major championship trophy and continued his inexorable run for the record of 18 held by Jack Nicklaus.

So much has changed in 19 months. The wife is gone and, for a long time, so was his game. The player who once only had to find the first tee to win, could barely find a fairway and went without a victory for the first time in his remarkable pro career.

If Thursday was any indication, there are signs that drought may not last long.

His scorecard said 69. The look on his face said satisfaction with a first step well taken.

"I thought I hit the ball well all day," Woods said. "I hit a couple loose shots but I knew what I did wrong and they were easy fixes."

That by itself is progress for Woods, who was so frustrated with his game last year that he changed his swing coaches and his swing. It started coming together for him in December at his own tournament, and the weeks of practice since helped him trust the changes even more.

Woods was long and relatively straight off the tee, even if the official stats that show him hitting just five of 14 fairways on the tight course might indicate otherwise. He also putted reasonably well, though an 18-footer for birdie he left just short on the final hole left him muttering to himself.

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