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How Tiger turned a mess into a masterpiece and other things you might have missed

CHINA, Japan — It was just a single round, of course, so there is a reluctance to draw too many conclusions.

But after seeing Tiger Woods in his skins game appearance Monday, during the pro-am Wednesday and now after a first-round 64 at the Zozo Championship, it is clear there is a physical difference from just a few months ago when the Masters champion was having trouble completing pro-am rounds.

Woods looks good, and appears to be swinging easier and without pain. There’s always the chance that something else occurs, but clearly the back stiffness that plagued him for most of the summer and the knee problems that led to surgery in late August impacted his play.

“I was trying to make compensations,” Woods said after taking a share of the first-round lead with Gary Woodland at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club. “Unfortunately, with the lack of movement that I had in my knee, my back, too — and that’s the last place I want to feel it. So it was nice to be able to feel that and I’m able to rotate a little bit better, able to clear better, and more importantly, be able to squat down and read putts.

“I was able to get down there [in the first round], which I’ve been doing at home, and that’s something that if you look at the video towards the end of the season, I wasn’t able to do very well.”