Tiger Woods admitted he’d squandered the chance to mark his return to golf after a 466-day absence with “something really good” in the first round of the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.
However, the 14-time major winner was far from downbeat despite finding himself second last in an 18-man field as he had to settle for a one-over-par 73 at Albany Golf Club after being four under for the first eight holes and sharing the lead in his own event.
Woods, who has slipped to 898th in the world during his recovery from three back surgeries in a 19-month spell, was back to his majestic best until stuttering over the closing ten holes, running up four 6s in that stretch, including two double-bogeys in the last three holes.
“I’ve hit a ball in three bushes and had a water ball,” he said afterwards. “It could have been something really good today. I got off to a nice solid start, but I didn’t play the par-5s well in the middle of the round and, consequently, got it going the wrong way. But, all in all, I feel pretty good and I’m looking forward to three more days.”
Asked what he’d been most pleased about, he added: “I think how quickly I fell into the competitive flow. By the time I hit my tee shot at the second, I already felt the feel of the round.”
Interest in Woods’ return included live tweets from the media during his pro-am round on Wednesday, and the former world No 1 took to the social media site himself to start the final countdown by posting a picture of himself tying his golf shoes, saying: “Laced up and ready to go.”
Woods, who had spoken in his pre-event press conference about how he was starting “phase two” in his career, pulled his opening tee shot a touch but comfortably made par before quickly getting into his stride with just about every aspect of his game.
It had been claimed that continued shortcomings with his chipping had been one of the main reasons that he shelved a planned return in the Safeway Open in California in October, but he passed that particular test under the global microscope for the first time with flying colours.
Over the green in two at the 572-yard third, he produced a majestic chip to tap-in distance for a birdie before repeating the feat at the fourth, this time to save par following a tugged approach. The confidence Woods gained from those two shots was probably behind the three consecutive birdies he then reeled off.
He holed from six feet at the par-5 sixth following another good pitch, knocked his second to five feet at the seventh before seeing his tee shot end up two feet from the hole at the short eighth. At four-under, he shared the lead at that point only for things to start to unravel a bit thereafter.
A pulled tee shot at the par-5 ninth left him having to hack out from long grass in the sandy waste area before a first chunked chip of day – the leading edge of wedge caught the turf – resulted in him running up a bogey to be out in 33, three-under. The 40-year-old also took a 6 at the 11th, where a semi-shank from the sand resulted in him having to take a penalty drop and there were signs of frustration starting to creep in when he raced a seven-foot birdie putt three foot foot past at the 12th.
There was a first fist pump by Woods as he holed a 15-footer to save par at the 14th. From 199 yards, he then hit a splendid 7-iron to a similar distance to set up an eagle chance at the long 15th but had to settle for a birdie. It was immediately wiped out, though, when his tee shot found another nasty spot off the fairway at the next, leaving Woods having to hack out backwards and leading to a double-bogey. He also dropped two shots at the last after pulling his drive into water.
As JB Holmes set the pace with an eight-under 64, Russell Knox, pictured, opened with a flawless 69 to sit in ninth position.