SCOTTSDALE, Arizona (REUTERS) - While Tiger Woods struggled in his first PGA Tour start of the season, Ryan Palmer birdied two of his last three holes to seize a one-shot lead at golf's weather-hit Waste Management Phoenix Open on Thursday.
Palmer, bidding for his fourth career victory on the US circuit, covered his last seven holes in five under par to card a seven-under 64 in the opening round at the TPC Scottsdale, before play was suspended for the day in fading light.
Nine players were yet to complete the round when the siren sounded to halt the action with PGA Tour rookie Daniel Berger the best placed at six under after 16 holes.
Keegan Bradley and Masters champion Bubba Watson opened with 65s but 14-time Major winner Woods looked very rusty in his first PGA Tour event in five months as he started out with an erratic 73 on a mainly overcast day in the Arizona desert.
Watched by massive galleries more reminiscent of a major championship than a regular tour event, Woods, now ranked 47th, mixed four bogeys with a double, an eagle and two birdies to end the day well off the pace and under pressure to make the cut.
"Mentally I'm a little bit tired from the grind of trying to piece together a round when I was five-over-par (after 11 holes)," the former world No. 1, who has been working on a swing change with new consultant Chris Como, told reporters.
"I fought back to give myself a decent look going into the weekend. I'm proud of that, because that takes a lot of mental energy."
Palmer was thrilled with his opening round, the highlight being an eagle at the par-five 13th where he struck a four-iron to less than a foot for a tap-in putt.
"That got me going, for sure," smiled the 38-year-old, who won his most recent title at the 2010 Sony Open in Hawaii. "It was a fun day, awesome.
"I hit it great, drove well, hit my irons solid, kept it in the middle of the green when I needed to, made some good putts.
"Had a blast on 16," he said of the infamous par-three 16th where he sank a 20-foot birdie putt in front of more than 15,000 fans crammed around the hole.
Three-time winner Phil Mickelson, a popular figure at Scottsdale after attending the nearby Arizona State University, carded a 69.
For Bradley, who four months ago traded a belly putter for a conventional one in a bid to prepare himself for a major change to be implemented by golf's rulemakers at the end of this year, it's been so far so good.
On Thursday, he wielded the shorter putter to great effect.
"Feels so good to go out and play a really solid round tee to green," Bradley told reporters after piling up seven birdies and a lone bogey. "Made a bunch of putts, which feels good. It's a relief to go out and shoot a good number in the first round."