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(Reuters) - Tiger Woods shot his lowest score in 16 months, a four-under-par 66 that left him four strokes behind leader Scott Langley after the opening round of the Greenbrier Classic on Thursday.
Though conditions were relatively easy on Greenbrier's rain-softened Old White Course, the round was a welcome reprieve for Woods, whose shocking slump over the past year raised questions of whether he ever again would be competitive.
Two weeks before the British Open at St. Andrews, where he has won twice, the 39-year-old former world number one declared he was "very close" to hitting top form.
"People think I'm crazy when I say I'm close but I felt like I was close," Woods told PGATour.com after a round that included seven birdies, one bogey and a double-bogey in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
"This past week was a good week (of practice) and today I hit the ball well all day until a couple of tee shots at the end, tugged a couple."
Woods described as "stupid" his double-bogey at the par-four sixth, his 15th hole, where he left his approach in the bunker, but he roared back like his old self to finish with three consecutive birdies.
"I was hitting the ball too well to end up one-under," said Woods, who went on to card his best score since a five-under 65 in the third round of last year's Honda Classic.
It might be dangerous to read too much into one good round, as it has been less than four weeks since Woods shot the worst score of his career, an 85 at the Memorial tournament in Ohio, and then missed the cut at the U.S. Open.
But he sounded positively giddy as he spoke to the media on Thursday, saying that the "overall pattern shift" that he started working on at the Memorial was starting to bear fruit.
"I just had to make a couple of tweaks and I felt like I pulled that off," he said after hitting 10 of 14 fairways and needing only 25 putts. "It's finally starting to click in now."
While Woods understandably grabbed the limelight, American Scott Langley compiled eight-under 62 for a one-stroke lead over compatriot Jonathan Byrd and New Zealand's Danny Lee.
On a day when 95 players broke par, defending champion Angel Cabrera struggled to a one-over 71.
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Frank Pingue