Laird, who closed with a 66 to finish joint-seventh behind Johnson 12 months ago, was equally impressed with his opening three-under-par 68 this time around in the PGA Tour event.
“Three-under is a great start and pretty much anything under par is always pretty good around Riviera,” the three-time winner on the US circuit told golfbytourmiss.com afterwards.
On a day when 13 players were unable to complete their rounds due to darkness, the effort left Laird sitting joint-sixth, just two shots behind clubhouse leaders Patrick Cantlay and Tony Finau.
“Any score in the 60s is really good and I played really nicely today as tee-to-green I hit it very solid,” he added. “While I missed a few shortish putts, I also made a few nice 15-25 footers.”
After a lean couple of years, Laird has started to get himself back in the mix, finishing joint-ninth in the Waste Management Phoenix Open just under a fortnight ago.
“The course itself is one of the hardest we play on the Tour and that is reflected in five-under leading,” he observed.
“It’s just good to get off to a good start and if I can follow-up this round with three more like this, I should be in a good spot.”
Woods finished the first round six shots off the lead after returning to this course, where he made his PGA Tour debut at the age of 16, for the first time in 12 years.
The former world No 1 started with a birdie at the 10th only to then drop three shots over the next two holes, losing a ball up a tree at the 11th.
He pulled shots back at 13 and 17, either side of a bogey at 15, and a birdie at the first was followed by bogey at the fifth.
A bogey-birdie-par finish meant a score of one over par and a steady start to the event in California.
Woods was playing with McIlroy and Justin Thomas and all three birdied their opening hole, McIlroy holing from a bunker.
Thomas, the US PGA champion, picked up two birdies in his last three holes to finish two under while McIlroy carded a 71.
Open champion Spieth opened with the same score but world No 1 Johnson had to settle for a 74.