LA JOLLA (California) • A new, surgically modified version of Tiger Woods, armed with new equipment and downsized expectations, launched his latest comeback on the PGA Tour on Thursday by shooting an even-par 72 on the South Course at Torrey Pines during the opening round of the Farmers Insurance Open.
An eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, Woods finished the round tied for 84th, seven shots behind early leader Tony Finau (who shot a 65 on the South Course).
Woods would most likely have had to shoot under par on the North Course in the second round yesterday (this morning, Singapore time) to make the 36-hole cut.
The 42-year-old former world No. 1 managed a couple of moments of old-style magic but admitted that he was "a little rusty".
That did not, however, dim the enthusiasm of the galleries that thronged around him on Torrey Pines' South Course - scene of his 14th and most recent Major title at the 2008 US Open.
His six-iron off the tee at the par-three 16th nearly yielded a hole-in-one, tracking the pin all the way and settling eight inches from the pin for a tap-in birdie.
He grabbed the first of his three birdies at the par-five sixth, where he fired his tee shot 308 yards down the middle of the fairway. His eagle attempt from 50 feet was inches short and he tapped that in for birdie.
HIS FIRST ROUND DRIVING
DISTANCE IN YARDS (9TH)
314.1Tiger Woods is still one of the biggest hitters, despite trying to find the best swing after back fusion surgery limited him physically. Said Patrick Reed: "A cut isn't supposed to go that far, and he's hitting a flat cut out there 30 yards past your driver."DRIVING ACCURACY (40TH)
8 of 14He missed the fairway (and the green) on the first hole but went on to hit eight.GREENS IN REGULATION (49TH)
12 of 18After hitting only four greens on the front nine, Woods hit eight of nine, including the final five on the back.STROKES GAINED: PUTTING (59TH)
-1.407Strokes Woods gave away to the field, although he managed to scramble for par (or better) half the six times he did not hit the green in regulation. And he was happiest with his putter, saying: "I missed one at 13, but I hit a lot of good ones, which is good."
"I hit a good putt," Woods said of the eagle try. "It was a double breaking putt and just hung on the lip."
Woods also rolled in a birdie putt from within two feet at the 10th.
"It was fun to feel that competitive rush again - (to) have a scorecard in my hand and try and post a number," added the American, playing his first Tour event since missing the cut here last year in an abortive bid to return after more than a year on the sidelines.
He said he was delighted to be playing without pain after spinal fusion surgery last April but the day was not without its frustrations.
"I've got to hit my irons better than I did today," he said. "I didn't hit them very close."
In a quick analysis of his round, Woods said he was happiest with his comfort with the putter.
"The greens are bumpy and I hit a lot of good putts," he said. "I missed one at 13, but I hit a lot of good ones, which is good, it's a good sign going into tomorrow."
His return to the PGA Tour drew a positive review from fellow competitor Patrick Reed.
"He seemed to have command, whether he went at it (the ball) hard or went at it soft, whether he wanted to launch it up in the air or take it down low," the American told reporters. "He (could) hit a high draw driver, or a low cut that goes miles. Some of the cuts he hit off the tee were insanely long. He's got his speed back, which is awesome to see."
Woods added that he was overwhelmed by the crowd support in southern California; he was born and raised in nearby Orange County.
"I thought it was incredible," he said. "They were into it; they were supportive. It always feels good to come out here and play Torrey Pines."
NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
FARMERS INSURANCE OPEN
Day 3: StarHub Ch204, tomorrow, 3am