SAN DIEGO • Tiger Woods has made more momentous putts on the 18th hole of Torrey Pines' South Course, but he has probably appreciated few more than the nine-footer he rolled in for a birdie on Thursday. The stroke capped off his first official round in 17 months and put a positive spin on a trying round of four-over 76.
"I was fighting out there, trying to get my ball around the golf course and score," said Woods, who bogeyed the first hole at the Farmers Insurance Open and played a stretch of six holes on the back nine in six over.
His caddie, Joe LaCava, kept counselling patience, advice that he accepted through gritted teeth.
"I didn't quite smile at him a few of those times he said that," Woods said.
Before he made his birdie putt, the other players in his group, Dustin Johnson and Jason Day, rolled in birdie attempts, ratcheting up the pressure.
World No. 3 Johnson shot an even-par 72. The top-ranked Day carded a 73. Day was No. 3 when Woods played his last official 72-hole PGA Tour event - at the Wyndham Championship in August 2015.
"I was excited to see how he was going to play," said the Australian. "Having 17 months off is a very long time. I think everyone was kind of anticipating what the comeback would look like.
"You can't break down everything he did today, because it's been 17 months. Let him play and go from there. You can't panic too much at the start of the year."
It was anything but a happy return to the challenging coastal layout outside San Diego, where the former world No. 1 Woods has won no fewer than eight times in his career, most notably his epic 2008 US Open victory.
His previous highest season-opening round was a 73 shot at the Phoenix Open in 2015, according to PGA Tour officials.
His round unravelled during the back nine, where three consecutive bogeys starting on the par-four 12th were capped with a double-bogey on the par-four 15th. A further bogey on the par-four 17th left him facing the prospect of finishing five over before his final shot.
"I let it slip away in the middle part of the back nine and unfortunately didn't hit very good shots," said Woods, who took encouragement from a solid if unspectacular start which left him at one under through 11.
The round left him 11 shots behind leader Justin Rose, who posted a seven-under 65. The 36-year-old 2013 US Open champion hit three birdies and two bogeys over the front nine. But a birdie on the North Course's par-four first - his 10th hole of the day - launched a low-scoring back nine, with an eagle on the par-five fifth followed by back-to-back birdies.
His momentum faltered, however, with a bogey on the penultimate hole before a brilliant eagle on the last resurrected his round.
"Great start to the tournament," said the Englishman. "The key to the round was having four eagle putts. I hit all the par fives in two so managed to convert two of those."
Canada's Adam Hadwin, fresh from a second-place finish at La Quinta last weekend which included a rare 59, was a shot back after carding a 66.
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