Tiger opens with a 69, trails Homa, Mitchell by five shots
— The scene was similar to the last time Tiger Woods played against the world's best. Fans packed onto every balcony on every level of the Riviera clubhouse Thursday, all of them straining for a rare sight of golf's biggest star.
Woods had them cheering even louder at the end.
He put on a show in his first competition in seven months, closing with three straight birdies and one big smile for a 2-under 69 in the Genesis Invitational, leaving him five shots behind Max Homa and Keith Mitchell.
Woods went bunker-to-fairway-to-bunker on the 10th hole and had to make an 8-footer to save bogey. He was wild off the tee for another bogey on the 12th, leaving him over par on a mild, breezy afternoon.
And then he looked like the Woods of old at the end — a tee shot to 5 feet on the par-3 16th, another birdie from 25 feet on the par-5 17th and then a big drive — a few yards longer than Rory McIlroy — on the 18th that set up 9-iron to 7 feet.
“I was able to fight back and get it going,” Woods said. “It was a nice finish.”
His legs held up fine, though still sore. The final task was making it up those 52 steps toward the clubhouse to sign his card. The next step is a quick turnaround. Woods finished about 5 p.m. local time, and faced a 7:24 a.m. start to the second round.
Homa played in the morning and also finished with three straight birdies for a 64. Mitchell played in the afternoon and birdied the last two holes to join him.
Jon Rahm opened with a 65 as he bids to return to No. 1 in the world. Matt Kuchar opened with a 30 on the front nine and settled for a 66, along with two-time major champion Collin Morikawa and Harris English.
Hardly anyone was watching them. That was to be expected with Woods playing. He has commanded all the attention for the last 25 years, and now Tiger sightings are rare because of legs that have been battered by knee surgeries (left) and a car crash (right).
There also was that matter of rust, which went beyond his golf. He hasn't heard this kind of noise since last summer at St. Andrews.
“I haven't played in a tournament in long time,” Woods said. “I didn’t look up as much. I was trying to calm myself down all day, figure out what the hell I’m doing out here . ... I probably should have appreciated the fans more than I did, but there was so much going on in my head.”
The group certainly helped. For the third time in his last four appearances at Riviera, Woods played alongside Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy, two of his closest friends in golf. They all birdied the 18th, McIlroy for a 67, Thomas for a 68.