MIAMI • It may have been just an even-par 70 to start the Honda Classic but Tiger Woods was "very pleased" with what he called the best ball-striking round of his latest comeback from injury.
The American was four shots behind joint leaders Alex Noren and Webb Simpson on Thursday, on a day when only 20 men broke par.
"I'm very pleased," said the 14-time Major champion, who had three birdies, a bogey and a double bogey in difficult, blustery conditions at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
"Today was not easy. It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best. It was tough all around today.
"The wind was playing hard, the rough's up and it's really tough to make putts out there."
Nevertheless, he matched his best opening round in four appearances at PGA National.
His decision to play this week marks his first attempt at back-to-back tournaments since 2015 as he vies to become a contender again following spinal fusion surgery, his fourth back operation, last April.
His return included a tie for 23rd at Torrey Pines last month and a missed cut at Riviera in Los Angeles last week and it was hard to argue after a marked improvement.
He teed off on the 10th and had two birdies and a bogey in his first nine holes. At the par-five third, he hit his approach shot into a greenside bunker en route to a double bogey but it did not derail his game.
"One bad hole today," he said. "That's the way it goes."
He responded immediately with a birdie, splitting the fairway at the sixth with a two-iron and draining a six-foot putt.
"I had good touch, but more importantly, I made a lot of the key short putts for par," he added. "It was really tough. Some of those putts were a little bit bouncy."
Nine-time European Tour winner Noren, who fell to former world No. 1 Jason Day in a marathon play-off at Torrey Pines last month, showed no hangover from that loss.
The Swede grabbed the last of his five birdies at his final hole, the par-four ninth and he was thrilled with his early blistering form. "This was by far my best putting and chipping round of the season," he said.
Former British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen and reigning PGA Championship holder Justin Thomas were a stroke off the lead on 67, while defending champion Rickie Fowler (71) and four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy (72) were plagued by three bogeys and a double-bogey respectively.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
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