For Woods, a miserable one.
Seemingly spending as much time in water and sand as he did on the green stuff, Woods returned to the major scene with a major thud - a 77 that was his worst round ever at the PGA.
A 15th major title? Forget about it.
Woods will need a major turnaround just to make the cut.
Beyond Stricker and Woods, there was Rory McIlroy banging his hand on an ill-advised shot off a tree root, Ryo Ishikawa spending so much time in the water he needed a snorkel, and two patched-up greens caused by mowers gone wild.
West Chester's Sean O'Hair shot a 1-over 71 and was tied for 36th with 22 others.
Stricker showed it was possible to go low by keeping the ball in the fairway. He tore up the tough back nine with a 5-under 30 and played a bogey-free round, leaving him 2 shots ahead of Jerry Kelly among those with morning tee times.
It was the 11th time a player has shot 63 in the year's final major, and the 25th time overall.
"I really had no expectations coming into today's round," the 44-year-old Stricker said. "I didn't make too many birdies the first three days during the practice rounds. I got off to a good start, and it kind of got me going."
McIlroy, the U.S. Open champion, got off to a painful start, taking an ill-advised swing at his ball resting against a tree root on the third hole.
He let the 7-iron fall from his hands as soon as he struck the ball, and flexed his wrist in obvious pain. He walked to the next hole holding an ice compress on his arm. Finally, at the fifth, he was checked out by PGA Tour physical therapist Jeff Hendra.
Apparently reassured that he couldn't hurt it any worse, McIlroy played on. He had the wrist taped up to provide extra support and managed to grind out an even-par 70.
Stricker has never won one of golf's big championships - he's 0 for 52 - and the Americans are mired in their longest major drought of the modern era.
It's early, but maybe he'll take care of both in the same week.
Stricker amazingly made birdies at both the 15th - the longest par-3 on the course - and the 18th, a lengthy par-4 that has water hugging the left side of the fairway and guarding the front of the green.
The Americans sure need a boost. They haven't won a major since Phil Mickelson triumphed at the 2010 Masters, coming up short at six in a row. During that span, Northern Ireland has captured three championships, South Africa two, and Germany one.
Stricker is the highest-ranked American in the world rankings, a spot that used to be controlled by Woods. Not anymore.
Woods knocked two balls in the water and spent enough time in the bunkers to feel like he was on a beach vacation. The result was predictable: Three double bogeys and five bogeys.
He headed to the clubhouse a colossal 14 strokes off the lead, having put up the same score as 57-year-old Jerry Pate.
"I'm not down," Woods said. "I'm really angry right now."
Fully recovered from a leg injury that caused him to miss both the U.S. Open and the British Open, Woods got off to a strong start with birdies on three of the first five holes, briefly grabbing a share of the lead.
Then Bad Tiger showed up again.
The trouble began at the 253-yard 15th, the over-the-top par 3 that is both long and protected by water. Woods went with an iron, but it wasn't quite enough, the ball plopping into the pond that runs along the right side of the hole. He reached down slowly to retrieve his tee and went on to make the first of his double bogeys.
At the 16th, a wild drive led to more problems. Woods landed in a fairway bunker to the right, knocked his approach into the gallery on the left, flopped it into another bunker, and settled for a bogey.
Woods took another double bogey at the brutal 18th after plugging his tee shot in, yes, another bunker. He could only gouge it out, found more sand with his third shot, and failed to get up-and-down from there.
His momentum totally stymied by a 2-over 37 at the turn, Woods staggered toward the finish. He started the front side with three more bogeys in the first four holes, then dunked another ball in the water at the sixth to set up his third double bogey on a sweltering day in the Deep South.
At least Woods fared better than Ishikawa, the Japanese star thought to be a contender coming off a strong showing at Firestone last week.
The 19-year-old put six balls in the water and finished with an 85.