Tiger Woods came to Quail Hollow seeking a sense of normalcy in his professional life. He seems to have found it -- that is, if your sense of normalcy is playing more like Notah Begay than the world's No. 1 player.
"It did feel normal -- except that he played more average than usual," playing partner Stewart Cink said after beating Woods' 74 by two strokes in Thursday's first round of the Quail Hollow Championship.
Truthfully, Woods' would have needed to upgrade to average. After striping his first drive and making birdie on his opening hole, Woods missed just about everything after that. He hit three more fairways the rest of the day, missed half the greens and had to rally to recover from a double bogey-bogey-bogey stretch at the turn just to stay in the top 100.
The effort left him familiarly steamed -- talking about a "two-way miss" and too disgusted to even go to the range to try to fix it.
It was hard for him to even notice how blissfully uneventful his first round in front of a regular tour gallery went. He didn't even know how to respond to a question about the positive energy the galleries were giving him in the wake of his off-course scandal.
"I didn't really hear much to be honest with you, I was struggling so bad out there," he said. "I was just trying to piece together a round to keep myself in the tournament."
Despite the score, it was another step in the right direction for Woods. After a five-month layoff to get the wreckage of his personal life in order, Woods finished tied for fourth in the Masters Tournament and left Augusta feeling bad about the outcome.
But three weeks later he is feeling more at home inside the ropes -- even if his ball didn't always stay inside them.
"I have to say this feels a heck of a lot more normal than the Masters did," Woods said.
It felt normal at 7:40 a.m. when Woods prepared to tee off with fellow major winners Cink and Angel Cabrera. Despite the temperature in the 40s that made your breath steam, the galleries lined the 10th fairway down both sides to see Woods return to the tour routine.
Security was heightened, with three armed Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers scooting around on Segways and dozens more of their brethren stationed at 50-yard intervals along the ropes and a more casually clad security detail walking with the group.
The show of force seemed excessive for the circumstances, since Woods was greeted with relative warmth everywhere he went. The tired "You da man!" and "Get in the hole!" cliches periodically echoed through the hardwoods.
Woods even gave a fist-bump to a fan as he walked onto the 16th tee. He could also be heard encouraging Cabrera's ball to veer away from trouble on the fifth tee, saying "hook ... hook ... hook" under his breath.
"It just seems like it's starting to be normal," said Cink, using that catchword again. "People love watching Tiger Woods play golf and they've forgiven him. They just want to see the guy play."
Woods' new normal is a little different. The tour and tournament officials are being overly careful to ensure that distractions or breaches of decorum are kept to a minimum. Like Augusta, credentials were restricted to the traditional golf press. Access to the interview room was controlled by issuing tickets and access inside the ropes was limited.
If something does happen -- which might be more likely when Woods plays this afternoon when the taps have been flowing or in front of less restrained galleries such as next week on the 17th hole at Sawgrass -- Woods isn't too worried. He even expects it -- which is good since he'll be playing in July outside Philadelphia, where Santa Claus was once famously booed.
"It's happened before, and it happened before any of this ever happened," Woods said. "I've dealt with that before."
Outside the course, Woods' new normal hasn't changed.
"There's paparazzi everywhere, at home, helicopters here and there, people driving by, paparazzi camping out in front of the gates," he said. "That hasn't changed."
As unlikely as it is that Woods' temperament will ever change, he's still trying. Despite how erratic his play was Thursday, he kept it together and never lost his temper.
"I'm trying. I'm trying," said the man who admitted that a younger version of him might have thrown tantrums and broken things in his hotel room after a round like this.
"But when you're fighting a miss like this and trying to piece together a round to keep myself in the tournament is pretty tough. I try and be easy on myself. It can be hard."
But the worst of the storm has passed, and Woods is getting back to business as usual. When his game finally catches up, it will soon seem like old times.