LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Tiger Woods started strong but struggled late on the way to a two-under par 69 on Thursday (Feb 13) at Riviera Country Club, where he is seeking a record 83rd US PGA Tour title at the Genesis Invitational.
Woods has never won in 12 prior starts at Riviera, the classic course in Pacific Palisades west of Los Angeles where he made his first tour start as a 16-year-old back in 1992.
Woods made a perfect start to his second bid to break his and Sam Snead's shared record of 82 PGA Tour titles, eagling the par-five first hole and adding birdies at the fifth and eighth.
But the back nine was a battle all the way, starting with a tee shot into the left rough at the 10th.
His tee shot at 11 hit a tree, and while he managed to give himself a look at birdie on the par-five hole his 10-foot putt didn't drop.
After a bogey at the 12th - where his approach rolled through the green - Woods came up with par saves at 13, 15 and 17 - where he was in a fairway bunker off the tee but salvaged par by two-putting from 68 feet.
In the right rough off the tee at 18, Woods ended with a bogey that left him five shots behind leader Matt Kuchar, who won last month's SMBC Singapore Open.
"I got off to a nice start on the front nine and just didn't hit many good shots on the back nine," the 15-time major champion said after hitting just one of seven fairways on the back nine.
"Made a couple loose swings and made a couple good saves on the back nine for par, but just wasn't able to get any birdies on the back nine." Woods said his duties as tournament host meant he'd had little time to practice this week.
"First time I saw the range was yesterday and that was for about 10 minutes and that was warming up for the pro-am," he said.
Nevertheless it seemed he'd found a groove when he belted his tee shot at the first and with 171 yards to the pin hit an eight-iron to within 25 feet.
Shot Tracker data putt the putt at 24 feet 8 inches - the numbers almost eerily invoking the memory of Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash on January 26.
"Ironic having those two numbers," Woods said.
Woods, who matched Snead with a victory in the Zozo Championship in Japan in October and finished tied for ninth at Torrey Pines in his only start since, was looking forward to teeing off early in his bid to climb the leaderboard on Friday.
"Hopefully we'll have a little bit smoother greens out there on the golf course," he said. "Hopefully I can hit it as good as I did on that front nine to give myself a number of looks for the entire 18 holes, not just nine holes."