Tiger flirts with re­turn to old form


Not only did Tiger Woods re­turn to golf on Thursday, he re­turned to be­ing Tiger. Just not for long. Hardly look­ing like a player who had not com­peted in 466 days, Woods ran off three straight birdies with a va­ri­ety of shots and was tied for the lead in the Hero World Chal­lenge as he ap­proached the turn. Then ev­ery­thing changed. Three shots in the bushes, one shot in the wa­ter and a few fits of anger sent him to­ward the bot­tom of the pack.

A pair of dou­ble bo­geys over the fi­nal three holes ru­ined an oth­er­wise im­pres­sive re­turn, as Woods shot 40 on the back nine at Al­bany Golf Club and had to set­tle for a 1-over 73.

He was in 17 th place in the 18-man field. Only Justin Rose had a higher score.

Even so, Woods has rea­son to be en­cour­aged.

After tak­ing off 16 months to re­cover from two back surg­eries, he felt no pain. His misses were not big, just costly. And he was play­ing again.

“It could have been some­thing re­ally good,” Woods said.

“I got off to a nice, solid start and made a few mis­takes there. I didn’t play the par 5s very well in the mid­dle part of the round and con­se­quently got it go­ing the wrong way. But all in all, I feel pretty good. I’m look­ing for­ward to three more days.”

He was nine shots be­hind J.B. Holmes, who opened with an 8-un­der 64 and had a oneshot lead over Hideki Mat­suyama, with US Open cham­pion Dustin John­son at 66.

Cu­rios­ity was greater than ex­pec­ta­tions for Woods, who was com­ing off the long­est hia­tus of his golf­ing life.

Plagued by back prob­lems since 2013 when he was No 1 in the world, he fi­nally shut it down after ty­ing for 10th in the Wyn­d­ham Cham­pi­onship on Aug 23, 2015, then went through two back surg­eries.

He was in so much pain last year that there were times he won­dered if he had played his last tour­na­ment.

With high an­tic­i­pa­tion, he tugged his open­ing tee shot into the rough on the left edge of a bunker then gouged out to 15 feet for par.

Just like that, it all started to feel as though he had never been away.

“By the time I hit my tee shot on the sec­ond hole, I had al­ready got­ten into the flow of the round,” Woods said.

“That’s some­thing that for me, when I’ve taken lay­offs and taken breaks, it’s a question of how quickly can I find the feel of the round? To not play in 15, 16 months and get it on the sec­ond hole is nice.”

He also knew that with only a stiff trop­i­cal wind be­hind him on three of the par 5s, scores would be low.

For a short time, Woods seemed up to the task. He hit a 5-iron from 231 yards just over the green and passed his first test, a 30-yard pitch-an­drun and that checked slightly and rolled out to a few feet from the hole for a birdie .

He faced a more dif­fi­cult pitch up the slope on the next hole and hit a chunk-and-run to three feet.

His con­fi­dence kept build­ing — a flop shot from 40 yards to five feet for birdie on the par-5 sixth, a wedge to five feet for birdie on the sev­enth and a 6-iron he struck so well on the par-3 eighth that he was ask­ing for per­fec­tion. “One yard! One yard!” he said as the ball was in the air, and then set­tled two feet away.

At that point he was tied with Holmes.

But Tiger flubbed a pitch on the par-5 ninth and made bo­gey. Two holes later, he flared an iron from the sandy waste area into a bush and had to take a penalty stroke, mak­ing an­other bo­gey on a par 5.

Woods was still hang­ing around in the mid­dle of the pack when he hit a 7-iron to 12 feet on the par-5 15th and twop­utted for birdie. Then it all fell apart. From the mid­dle of the 16th fair­way, he pulled his ap­proach and dropped the club as the ball sailed into a bush. He had to play that back­ward to the fair­way, pitched a wedge some 30 feet past the pin and made dou­ble bo­gey.

Then on the 18th, he pulled his driver and im­me­di­ately slammed the club into the turf as he watched for the splash. His pitch hit the pin and he missed from 20 feet for an­other bo­gey.

“Just made some re­ally silly mis­takes,” Woods said. “But I haven’t played in a while. Un­for­tu­nately, I made those mis­takes. I can clean that up. We’ve got three more days. Wind is sup­posed to pump on the week­end, and I’ ll be play­ing a lit­tle bit bet­ter.”

It could have been some­thing re­ally good. I got off to a nice, solid start and made a few mis­takes there.” Tiger Woods, after his first-round play

Tiger Woods im­pressed a world-class field after a 16-month lay­off in Thursday’s open­ing round of the Hero World Chal­lenge, de­spite dou­ble bo­geys on two of the last three holes en route to a 1-over 73.

“After that long break and not be­ing able to play in a tour­na­ment, to come out like he did was pretty good,” said J.B. Holmes, who fired a 64 to grab the first-round lead.

“It’s great to have him back. He has been gone a while and he def­i­nitely brings a lot more to our sport. Nice to see him.”

Eighth-ranked Pa­trick Reed, who shot 72, played along­side Woods and liked what he saw from the 14-time ma­jor cham­pion.

“Un­for­tu­nately it wasn’t quite the way we both wanted to play, but it was awe­some to get him back out here and play golf with him,” Reed said.

“The first eight holes he played re­ally well. I was like, ‘Wow.’ He seemed like he had com­plete con­trol of what he was try­ing to do with the ball.

“There were just a cou­ple loose swings here and there. He needs to tighten some things up, too, but it’s awe­some to have him back. It’s good to see him, for the most part, have pretty good con­trol.”

Woods said more rounds will help elim­i­nate the er­rors.

“I just need to keep play­ing,” he said. “My feels need to keep com­ing back, see­ing the shots, feel­ing the shots, hit­ting my numbers and get­ting all that.”

“I thought his swing looked good,” Reed said.

“When he hit it well, it was re­ally good, but when he mishit it, they weren’t very good misses.

“At the end of the day, to take off as much time as he did and come back and be in his first com­pet­i­tive round and have the kind of spurts that he had through­out the round, it was good to see.”

Tiger Woods ad­justs his cap on the 10th green dur­ing Thursday’s open­ing round of the Hero World Chal­lenge in Nas­sau, Ba­hamas. After a strong start, Woods carded a 73 in his first com­pet­i­tive tour­na­ment in 16 months.

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