James Lawton: Confident Tiger may be out of the Woods
The healing of Tiger Woods may never happen - at least not to the point where he becomes again the impregnable figure who once treated this historic golf course as a favourite corner of his empire.
But then if it does, and if he resumes once more the pursuit of Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 major victories in the way that less than a year ago seemed so formal, he may want to return to the gentlest of hours beside the Firth of Forth.
He may want to remember how it was when he realised that though his life was never going to be as uncomplicated as it was when was he piling up those first 14 majors, he could still go out to play his game and be appreciated for what he was, rather than what so many might have imagined him to be.
Yesterday Woods had moments of confidence that had so often seemed so remote in the first two of the three majors he has played since his life entered a vortex of shame and recrimination.
The Tiger's rather belated thanksgiving was, by his old standards, placed somewhat in the margins by the spectacular eruption of one of his most threatening rivals, the precocious Ulsterman Rory McIlroy.
However, if McIlroy ripped around the Old Course while shooting a stunning 63, Woods looked liked a man who had resurrected at least a little of the best of his past.
His new putter, the first he had granted himself in the course of 13 major victories, mostly worked well enough to contradict the discouraging comments of his caddie Steve Williams earlier in the week. On the 18th tee he drove stupendously after making his one mistake of the day, a bogey on the Road Hole, and at five-under he finished a mere four shots off the lead.
The margin, which he suggested was negligible over three days when the wind, like the pressure, was at some point bound to rise, was less important than a powerful sense of regained control.
For Woods there seemed to be a special edge of satisfaction that he had regained some of his authority at the site of two of his most imperious victories, in 2000 and 2005.
Yesterday's move had scarcely the beginnings of such decisiveness, but when you are in the kind of terrain Woods has occupied for some time now, you take what is available, and you respond with as much optimism as you can muster.
It was a not-inconsiderable amount. Woods said: “The art here is letting the round mature, and there's no need to force it. Just go ahead and capitalise on certain holes, and when I am at just one-under, when others are scoring better, it doesn't mean I need to go force things. I had plenty of holes left, the conditions were benign, so just go ahead and get it done — and it happened.
“It's getting better every week. Every week I'm playing, the things I have been working on have been starting to come together. I'm hitting shots that I haven't hit in a long time.”
“I feel I'm in good shape, I took advantage of the golf course when I needed to. You know, as of right now, we're on the right side of the draw, but you don't know tomorrow. The weather is supposed to come in here at 11.00, but there's no weather.” A few hours later there was a near monsoon, but of course the Tiger spoke as a man who may just have been riding out the last of a personal hurricane.
Maybe, maybe not, but there was, he said, one certainty. Young McIlroy had played a remarkable round, and there was no doubt he knew how to win golf tournaments.
Still, there was so much time for him to plug on and find his game, arguably the best that golf has ever seen. Six birdies, he seemed to be saying, might just have signalled the end of a siege.