December 01, 2017

Tiger starts Hero World Challenge with 3-under 69

ALBANY, Bahamas – Tiger Woods didn’t disappoint in his much-anticipated return to professional golf on Thursday.

Competing for the first time in 10 months, he fired a 3-under-par 69 in the opening round of the $3.5 million Hero World Challenge at Albany Resort. Woods made five birdies and two bogeys and is tied for eighth, three strokes behind leader Tommy Fleetwood.

“I didn’t know what I could do,” Woods said. “I’ve played a lot of holes at home, but it’s a little bit different when you have to tee it up in a tournament. I had a lot of adrenaline going, I was hitting the ball a little bit longer than I normally do, and had to dial it back a little bit.”

Showing no ill-effects from his fourth back surgery last April, he hit seven of 13 fairways, 11 of 18 greens and used 27 putts.

It marked Woods’ first sub-par opening round in 834 days, the last coming at the 2015 Wyndham Championship.

“I thought I did great,” said Woods,” a five-time champion and the tournament host. “I hadn’t played in a while after some difficulties I’ve been through, and to come out here and score like I did, that was nice to be part of a scorecard again.”

Coming into the week, Woods had competed only three times in three years. He has had four back surgeries since 2014, the most recent a spinal fusion.

Paired with Justin Thomas, the 2017 PGA Tour Player of the Year, Woods found the fairway with his opening drive, pulling it slightly but received a nice left-to-right bounce. He started his comeback with a two-putt par.

Following a two-putt par at the second, Woods smashed his tee shot at the par-5 third and reached the green in two from 265 yards with a 2-iron. It was vintage Tiger.

“I just hit it on a rope,” he said. “That felt good.”

Woods two-putted from about 40 feet for his first birdie.

After missing the green to the right at the par-3 fourth, Tiger stubbed his chip just short of the putting surface, then saved par with an 18-foot putt, pumping his fist.

“I hit a terrible shot into the grain,” said Woods. “It was nice to make that putt and keep the momentum going.”

Tiger forged his second birdie at the 216-yard par-3 eighth, drilling a 25-foot putt. But he bogeyed the par-5 ninth after a good drive and turned in 1-under.

Woods rebounded quickly at the 435-yard par-4 10th. After a nice drive, he flighted an 8-iron from 159 yards within 12 feet of the pin and sunk the birdie putt.

Tiger made scrambling pars at 11 and 12, holing lengthy putts at both, then poured in a 25-foot birdie putt at the par-4 13th. He added another at the short par-4 14th, laying up with an iron, then flagged a wedge from 88 yards about three feet from the cup.

In one of the few poor swings he made with his driver, Woods blocked his tee shot way right at the par-5 15th and was forced to take an unplayable lie. He escaped with a bogey.

Tiger parred the last three holes. At the par-4 18th, he hit a nice approach but just missed the green to the left, the ball settling against the collar. Woods’ testy chip scooted nearly five feet past the cup, but he buried the putt to finish strong.

“Last year, I got tired,” he said. “You could see I was 3- or 4-under par and then made a couple doubs (double bogeys), a couple bogeys here and there and lost the round. This year, obviously with my back better, my training sessions have been much better, my strength is up and I didn’t feel tired at all, which is great.”

Thomas wasn’t surprised.

“He played well,” Thomas said. “I truly felt like he was going to play well just from when we played (in Florida) and then practiced around here.”

Eighteen players, including eight of the top 10 in the world, are competing in the 72-hole event and there is no cut.

While Woods would love to contend this week, his top priority is to play all four rounds pain-free.

His children, Sam, 10, and Charlie, 8, have provided added motivation.

“When I started coming back for this event, Sam wanted to go out on the golf course with me,” he said. “She just thought it was so cool I was hitting it where she couldn’t see it. She said, ‘How do you see that golf ball?’ I said, ‘It’s only going about 320, just being a complete smartass about it. Charlie’s the same way; he wants to compete, he wants to play with me, those are things that are special.”

So would being able to show them how he has recorded 79 PGA Tour victories and 14 major titles.

“I want them to see what I’ve been able to do my entire career,” Woods said.

Thursday was a good start.

On Friday, Woods tees off at 11:43 a.m. EDST with Henrik Stenson.