DUBAI • Tiger Woods felt the pain, figuratively at least, after the former world No. 1 golfer failed to make a single birdie in recording a miserable five-over 77 on the opening day of the Dubai Desert Classic.
The creaking American, now ranked 666th after his injury layoff, trailed leader Sergio Garcia by 12 shots and with only seven players, including two Moroccans, below him on the leaderboard.
"I wasn't in pain at all. I was just trying to hit shots and I wasn't doing a very good job," he told reporters yesterday. "At the end, I finally hit some good ones but the damage had already been done.
"I could have hung in there. I could have shot something near even par if I would have made some putts but I made nothing."
Appearing for the eighth time in Dubai, where he has won twice with a 92-under record for the 28 rounds he played there since 2001, the 41-year-old Woods looked out of sorts as he continued his comeback at the European Tour event.
The numbers from the opening round were neither pretty, two shots higher than his previous worst ever at the Emirates Golf Club, nor was his swing or his putting stroke.
The 14-time Major winner had also looked rusty last week, when he played his first full-field PGA Tour event in 17 months after being sidelined by back pain and spine surgery, and missed the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open.
His chances of avoiding another early exit looked slim yesterday, with the American appearing to be in some discomfort as he struggled to find a rhythm and reached the turn in a three-over 40 after two bogeys in his opening three holes.
Starting on the back nine, he bogeyed the par-five opener after finding a bunker and dropped another shot at the par-four 12th.
At the par-five 18th, his approach shot fell short of the green and rolled back into the water for his third bogey. The fifth turned into a three-putt bogey and he missed par from five feet on the next.
"I left probably 16 putts short," he said. "I just couldn't get the speed of these greens and consequently it all added up to a pretty high number."
While he struggled, Garcia fired a 65 to set the early target and open up a one-shot lead over Chile's Felipe Aguilar and South African George Coetzee.
"It was a nice way to start, a good solid round," the Spaniard said.
Defending champion Danny Willett, the Masters winner who was playing alongside Woods and fellow Briton Matt Fitzpatrick (69), started with a 71.
Woods remains optimistic about climbing the leaderboard.
"Hopefully this wind blows tomorrow, I shoot a good round and get back to even par," he said. "That's certainly not out of the realm of winning the golf tournament."
REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN
DUBAI DESERT CLASSIC
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