Three holes later, having just bogeyed Nos. 2 and 3, he tumbled to nine strokes back.
"Not exactly the greatest of starts," Woods appraised.
Then a most unexpected thing began to happen. Woods, who over the past six months discovered new and endless ways to be a newsmaker, finally did it the old-fashioned way.
Suddenly, the world's No. 1-ranked player was once again the golfer to be feared, a looming shadow of swing, swagger and fist pumps. Rebounding from the early back-to-back bogeys, Woods birdied eight of his final 15 holes. He carded a 5-under 66, slaying the treacherous back-nine with a five-birdie (including three straight to finish) score of 31.
Although Woods returned in April from a five-month layoff to finish fourth at the Masters, his three appearances that followed produced more doubt than promise.
All that may have changed.
"I was hitting shots like this every now and again," Woods said. "I would get into two, three hole stretches, but I haven't strung it out for more than that. And today I did.
"I knew what I've been working on is building. It's getting better. But I just hadn't had a long enough stretch where I would go three holes, but then my fourth hole I would hit a bad shot. You just can't do that out here. Today I hit a lot of good ones."
Now look. Going into Sunday's final round, Woods is 1-under and in the lead, trailing only Dustin Johnson's pace-setting 6-under and Graeme McDowell at 3-under.
OK, maybe there is a slight flaw in that accounting process, but anyone keeping count understands the math.
Sunday + Pebble Beach + excess stomach acid = golden opportunity for Woods' 15th major championship.
Johnson may have won the past two AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Ams played in February on this very course by hitting it, according to Woods, "stupid long," but with a 28th birthday coming next week, he remains a long way from battle tested in the spotlight of golf's big stage. He does, however, have good reason to believe -- certainly following Saturday's 66 that featured an eagle 2 on the par-4 fourth hole when he drove the green.
"Whenever you have success at a golf course, you get a lot of confidence," Johnson said. "So I've got a lot of confidence here.
"The first time I walked out here I loved the place. And I really enjoy playing golf here. You couldn't ask for a more beautiful place. And I just really enjoy it."
The three-time PGA Tour winner is considered a rising talent. He may be the best athlete on the PGA Tour, certainly one of the few able to dunk a basketball. But is he ready to handle the heat of a major championship's final round?
"I think I'm very patient most of the time," he said. "Sometimes I can get a little impatient, I'll hurry. But tomorrow I'll just try to keep it slow, keep a good routine going like I've been doing, and take what the golf course gives me.
"This is what I live for. This is what I practice every day for. This is why I go to the gym and do all the stuff that I do is to be in a position like this to go out and have a chance to win a U.S. Open."
Meanwhile, McDowell, a 30-year-old from Northern Ireland, has five European Tour titles, but is without a U.S. victory. And in 18 previous major championship appearances, a T-10 at last year's PGA is a career best. After holding a two-shot lead at the end of two rounds, he shot even-par 71 on Saturday.
That's not, however, to say Woods' only task is chasing down either Johnson or McDowell.
One behind Woods at even-par is old rival Ernie Els (72) and Frenchman Gregory Havret (69), while Phil Mickelson (72) is 1-over.
"Thoughts going into tomorrow?" Els said, repeating the question asked of him. "I need to play a good round of golf. I need to play a steady round of golf. I need to make some birdies early on and try to have a good finish. I think the finish is going to be tough for the leaders, for anybody.
"But I think that's where you could maybe make up some ground and obviously the first couple of holes where you have a few birdie opportunities."
The day's final pairing will be Johnson and McDowell. Woods and Havret will be immediately in front.
Saturday was a stare-down between Woods and Johnson, their matching 66s equaling the week's low round posted on Friday by Mickelson.
Both have games that can be electric.
Admittedly, tee markers were moved up Saturday on the fourth hole, making it a drivable 284 yards to the pin -- but Johnson hit 2-iron to 10 feet and dropped the putt. On the 205-yard par-3 17th, he hit 7 iron inside three feet.
"Length's an advantage a lot of places," Johnson said. "But definitely here, especially if I'm hitting it in the fairway, because the ball is going a long way. I'm hitting it extra far. On these long par-4s, 9 and 10, you know, some of these holes where I can get it way down there I can actually stop the ball coming into the greens and that's where it plays a big advantage."
Just how long is the 6-foot-4, 190-pounder from Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Coastal Carolina University? Long enough to have gotten into Woods' head.
"I've played with long hitters who can play, but he hits it just miles," Woods said when asked about the leader. "We played a practice round and he had 226 on 17 and into the wind. He just pulls out a 4-iron and hit its flag high in the air. He carried a 4-iron 226 into the wind. I'm thinking 2 iron -- and Dustin just pulls out 4-iron like it was nothing."
It means Sunday