Helped by holing a 71-foot putt, Tiger Woods maintained his encouraging run of form heading into the Masters by sitting close to the clubhouse lead in the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Florida, writes Martin Dempster.
An eight-time winner of the PGA Tour event at Bay Hill, Woods opened with a four-under-par 68 to be just one shot behind fellow American Jimmy Walker in the morning wave.
It was another eye-catching performance from Woods in just his fifth official event since returning late last year after spinal fusion surgery in April – his fourth back operation in three years.
Starting at the 10th, the 14-time major winner shared the early lead after picking up back-to-back birdies at the 12th and 13th before making another gain at the 16th to be out in 33.
Woods undid some of that good work by hitting his tee shot out of the bounds at the third and running up a double-bogey 6 but bounced back from that blow with three birdies in the next four holes.
The pick of those was undoubtedly that monster putt for a 2 at the seventh, which lit up a huge smile on the 42-year-old’s face.
He then holed a 10-foot par putt at the last to round off another excellent day’s work in the countdown to the Masters, for which his odds have plummeted in recent weeks.
The promising start in this event comes on the back of him finishing just a shot behind winner Paul Casey in the Valspar Championship on Sunday, having just missed out on a top 10 in the Honda Classic prior to that.
If he can keep it up, Woods will be heading to Augusta National in three weeks’ time feeling bullish about his chances of claiming a fifth Green Jacket in the season’s opening major.
Former Scottish Open champion Justin Rose also had cause to feel pleased with his start, signing for 69 despite being four-over after just six holes. The Englishman repaired that early damage by picking up seven birdies thereafter, coming home in 31.
Scotland’s Martin Laird, the 2011 winner, had a level-par round of 72, which left him in a tie for 46th place. Compatriot Russell Knox was joint 91st after a 74.