PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — He hit the ball well for a while Thursday. You start there with Tiger Woods, because you have to start the same conversation somewhere these days.
Some rounds he putts well. Some rounds he hits the ball well. Some days, like at the Honda Classic's first round, he even does both for a while.
But on what's becoming a remarkable run of mediocrity, the No. 1 player in the world keeps struggling to play like the No. 1 player in the world. He shot 1-over par Thursday.
"I hit it good enough to shoot probably at least three or four (shots) lower than I did," he said. "I had so many looks where I just missed, and I just needed to read (the greens) a little better than I did."
Twenty years ago Thursday, the red carpet rolled out before Tiger for the first time at his first PGA event in Los Angeles. He was 18 then and remembered the first tee, "stepping up to it like no big deal," he said.
"I took the club back, I'll never forget how heavy the club felt all of a sudden," he said.
He was a golf prodigy then, a kid who would start winning when he turned pro a couple of years later and seemed like he'd never stop winning. Until he did stop. And nothing makes golf fans more nostalgic for that Tiger than to see the one on display now.
He's still very good. He's often great, as five tournament wins last year and No. 1 ranking shows. But he missed the only cut of this calendar year to date, and we're approaching six years since Tiger won his last major tournament.
If we're beyond the point of his personal calamity, we're also beyond thinking he'll ever win like he once did. The updated question isn't if he can catch Jack Nicklaus' all-time mark of 18 major wins. It's if he can get to No. 15. And when.
He has a repaired knee, bad back, reconstructed swing and a game that springs leaks with some regularity. His drive didn't sail to distant planets Thursday as has been known. But he missed four makeable putts on his opening four holes.
"I didn't make much," he said.
He drove once into the woods and came out of with a double-bogey. He missed a 4-foot putt for a bogey. He chipped from just off the green to 15 feet by the cup, which resulted in another bogey.
It's the first round, only Thursday, but his read of the greens needs work.
"I just didn't have the speed right," he said. "The great is pretty strong out there and I read it wrong a few times."
Tiger said he began hitting the ball well and putting poorly. But somehow he stopped hitting it that way for a stretch on his back nine.
"Then I started putting better," he said. "Figures."
About the only consistent part of his round is the crowds that follow him. And the stories. This is the other part of him having been around for two decades. Even a simple tournament pairing with Zach Johnson re-opens a chapter from Tiger's past that tells how it all turned out for him.
It was Tiger's former coach, Hank Haney, who wrote about Tiger rooming with Johnson at the 2006 Ryder Cup. Tiger cranked up the mind games by arriving first and ordering the 24-hour porn package on the TV. Johnson, a devout Christian, said nothing.
And now here they were, talking and friendly years later in the first round of what has the makings of a great Honda tournament. Just look at this field which comes with the biggest names in the sport.
Tiger has work to do. On his final hole Thursday, hovering around what would get him cut on Friday, he knocked his approach shot to within 10 feet. He sank that putt.
He strode off the green to cheers, as he always does. Twenty years after he began, the cheers are the given. It's the game that remains unsteady.