He shot a 68 Saturday at Augusta National, putting together his first back-to-back rounds in the 60s at the Masters in 10 years, and his first in a major anywhere since 2012. But he was certain it could have been even better.
"Oh, man," Woods said afterward, "It could have been something seriously low today."
He finished off a recap of his round a moment later by adding ruefully, "All-in-all, if you probably look at it, it should have been about two shots better."
Instead of lingering on what he'd accomplished already, Woods set his sights on Sunday.
"I'm going to have to put together a really special round of golf" on Sunday," he said. "You saw what happened here in '96 (when Nick Faldo made up a 6-shot deficit over Greg Norman). You saw what happened with Rory (McIlroy, who took a 4-shot lead into the final round) in '11.
"You never know," he continued, "around this golf course."
Woods arrived in Augusta with questions about both the state of his short game and the swing changes he'd attempted to make with new coach Chris Como. The four-time Masters winner acknowledged there were few places better to test both than Augusta, which places a premium on chipping and putting, and where his knowledge of the greens would force him to hit precise approach shots from a variety of tough lies.
"This is probably one of the harder tournaments to come back to because, as any golfer understands, (it's) a golf course that's hilly ... (requiring) the right trajectory, the right shape the right feels. On top of that," Woods added, "you have to miss it in the correct spots."
In a few cases, Woods wasn't up to the task.
He followed up a bad miss left off the 13th tee with a curse word that was picked up by an on-course microphone, prompting the CBS announcers to intone, "If you heard something offensive at 13, we apologize." But he caught a break on his lie in the woods, punched back into the fairway and wound up knocking in a 15-footer for what Woods called a "stupidly good birdie," his fifth of six on the day.
A hole later, he sprayed his drive into the woods on the right, recovered with a smart approach shot, but then three-putted from almost 100 feet for a "stupidly bad bogey," one of just two Woods carded on the day.
He said his goal was to get 10-under by the end of the round, in case leader Jordan Spieth "went off a little bit, at least I was within range." Spieth did spill a few shots at the end of his round; he reached 18-under before double-bogeying No. 17 and making par at the 18th. But it still left Woods in a five-way tie for fifth, with major winners Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose and surprising dogged Charley Hoffman sandwiched between him and the leader.
"To come back here and play in a major championship and to be in the mix — granted, I've got to shoot a super low" score on Sunday, Woods said, "but at least I've given myself a chance."
And even if that doesn't happen, Woods couldn't hide his satisfaction at being back in the championship discussion. Asked what grade he'd give himself for the tournament, he smiled.
"A good one," Woods replied.