Golf: Tiger makes woeful start to first comeback round

BETHESDA, United States (AFP) - Tiger Woods struggled on Thursday with five bogeys in the opening nine holes of his first competitive golf round after a three-month injury layoff, making the turn at four-over par 39.

He showed troubles off the tee and with his putter in his long-awaited return after a 109-day absence on Congressional Country Club's back nine in the opening round of the US$6.5 million (S$8.1 million) US PGA National.

Teeing off at the 10th hole to cheers and applause, Woods stumbled with back-to-back bogeys, answered with a birdie at the 14th, but took another bogey at 15, missed a six-foot birdie putt at the par-five 16th to settle for par and closed with back-to-back bogeys.

Chasing Jack Nicklaus' all-time record of 18 major titles, Woods hopes to play his way into shape this week ahead of next month's British Open at Royal Liverpool, where the 14-time Major winner took the Claret Jug in 2006.

Woods, who has not won a Major title since the 2008 US Open, had not played in any event since March 9 following back surgery on March 31 to relieve a pinched nerve.

He had not played a competitive round since he fired a 78, the worst final-round score of his pro career, at Doral, where he struggled to bend over to pick the ball out of the cup.

Woods spent months recuperating and slowly progressing to the point where he could swing a driver at full strength and continues to take physiotherapy exercises.

The 38-year-old American, feeling fully pain-free for the first time in two years and recovering ahead of schedule, received doctors' approval to make his comeback at the National, a PGA event which benefits his charity foundation.

Woods began his comeback at the par-71 layout's par-three 10th hole, sending his tee shot over the green and into a bunker. He blasted out to 17 feet then slid his par attempt three feet beyond the cup.

At 11, Woods left his approach short of the green and missed an 18-foot par putt.

But at 14, he dropped a 174-yard approach shot nine feet from the pin and made the putt for the first birdie of his comeback.

He pulled his next tee shot left into the rough and went on to miss a 13-foot putt and settle for bogey at 15.

After missing his short birdie try at 16, he also failed on a testy seven-foot par putt at 17 and then found the right rough off the 18th tee and missed an 11-foot par putt.

Woods seeks his 80th career PGA title, two shy of Sam Snead's all-time record, and his third victory in the National after titles in 2009 and 2012, but expected to be rusty at the start.

"I just haven't had the amount of prep and reps (preparation and repetitions) that I would like," he said two days ago. "But I'm good enough to play and I'm going to give it a go."

He will play the first two rounds alongside Australian Jason Day and 20-year-old US star Jordan Spieth, both still seeking a first major triumph.

Woods' most recent victory came last August at the World Golf Championships event in Akron, Ohio.

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