Woods' re­turn to play pro­duces mixed re­sults

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Doug Fer­gu­son AP Golf Writer

Tiger Woods re­turns to the links after be­ing away for more than a year, shoot­ing a 1-over 73 in Nas­sau, Ba­hamas.

Not only did Tiger Woods re­turn to golf 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.

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, and Woods shot 40 on the back nine at Al­bany Golf Club and had to set­tle for a 1-over 73.

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

Even so, Woods has reason to be en­cour­aged. After tak­ing off 15 months to re­cover from two back surg­eries, he felt no pain or lim­i­ta­tions. 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 an­other three more days.”

He was nine shots be­hind J.B. Holmes, who opened with an 8-un­der 64 and had a one-shot lead over Hideki Mat­suyama, with U.S. 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, and then go­ing through two back surg­eries.

He was in so much pain last year there were times he won­dered 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 and gouged that 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 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 30yard pitch-and-run 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 chunkand-run to 3 feet.

His con­fi­dence kept build­ing — the flop shot from 40 yards to 5 feet for birdie on the par-5 sixth, the wedge to 5 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 2 feet away.

At that point he was tied with Holmes.

But he 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 shot, mak­ing an­other bo­gey on a par 5. Woods was still hang­ing around in the mid­dle of the pack when he hit 7-iron to 12 feet on the par-5 15th and twop­utted for birdie.

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