Woods' hot putter puts him in AT&T hunt

BETHESDA, Md. -- He owns a yacht named, appropriately, "Privacy." He boasts a private jet, the fastest noncommercial version available. He has one Florida-based mansion and is building a second.

Tiger Woods possesses plenty of expensive toys, but I'm pretty sure his arsenal doesn't include the one thing he needed most in the opening round of the AT&T National at Congressional Country Club.

A time machine.

The world's richest athlete probably is kicking himself for failing to employ a team of scientists toward getting one of these phone-booth-type contraptions in his garage. On Thursday, Woods could have stepped into the machine with his Scotty Cameron putter in hand, set the dial for two weeks into the past and simply used his recently found putting stroke to claim a 15th career major championship title.

After needing just 27 rolls off the flatstick on rain-softened greens, the world's No. 1-ranked player was reluctant to proclaim how this improvement would have affected his chances at Bethpage Black, but I'll go ahead and say it for him: If Tiger Woods had putted like this two weeks ago, he would have won the U.S. Open. Easily.

Remember, this is a guy who couldn't roll one into an ocean on Long Island -- even if the ocean happened to take the form of some untimely puddles on the greens. His lasting comments from the tournament, where he finished in a share of sixth place, came in reference to his putting after Monday's final round.

"I didn't make anything," Woods said at the time. "My good ones are not going in, and then my bad ones aren't even close."

In stark contrast, this week's tournament host seemingly couldn't miss in the opening round at the AT&T. In 18 holes, he sank a total of 146 feet worth of putts, which ranked second in the field. That number included five birdies from 10 feet or longer. On No. 2, he rolled in a 48-footer; on the 12th, he holed one from 30 feet.

It all equated to a score of 6-under 64 that included seven birdies and just one bogey. Just as he did at the Memorial Tournament -- which he won -- and the U.S. Open, Woods continued his solid ballstriking, hitting 12 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens in regulation. It was his putting, though, that was the major difference this time around.

Yet afterward, he wouldn't speculate about what such success on the greens would have meant at Bethpage.

"Sometimes you just have those weeks, and unfortunately I had a week at the wrong time" Woods said. "But it's golf. You have days, you have weeks, and you have stretches where you putt well and you putt poorly. But the whole idea is to make sure you have consistent speed. As long as your speed is good day in and day out, you can turn it around pretty quickly."

As if Tiger needed a reminder of his failed attempt at a fourth U.S. Open title two weeks ago, he had only to look across the tee box at champion Lucas Glover, a member of his early-round threesome. No, Glover wasn't hoisting the trophy between shots Thursday, nor is he the type to ever sarcastically deride Woods for failing to beat him into the winner's circle.

If anything, in fact, it's TW who could boast a claim over the guy nicknamed G-Lover by the Letterman writers. In the last 36 holes they've played in the same tourney -- Round 4 of the U.S. Open and Round 1 of the AT&T -- Woods is 9 strokes up on his fellow competitor.

"Quite a round he played," said Glover, who shot a 1-under 69 on Thursday. "I tried to grab onto his coattails early, but I couldn't keep up. He played great. He deals with everything so well. It's really impressive to see."

Woods will enter the final 54 holes in a share of second place, just a pair of strokes behind defending champion Anthony Kim. As official host of the AT&T, he would enjoy nothing more than beating Kim and the other 117 competitors, putting his name on the hardware for the first time in the third year of the event.

"I've always enjoyed being a selfish host, and that [means] winning the event," he said. "I've done that out there in L.A. at the Chevron World Challenge there a few times, and hopefully I can do it this week."

You read it here first. If Tiger Woods continues putting like this, he'll win the AT&T National. Then again, if he had putted like this at Bethpage, he would have won the U.S. Open, too.

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.