TIGER WOODS MANAGED a couple of moments of old-style magic as he launched his latest PGA Tour comeback with an even-par 72 at the Farmers Insurance Open.
The 42-year-old former world number one said he was “a little rusty”, but that didn’t 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.
“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,” said Woods, playing his first Tour event since missing the cut here last year in an abortive bid to return from more than a year on the sidelines.
Woods says he’s delighted to be playing without pain after spinal fusion surgery in April, but the day was not without its frustrations.
“I’ve got to hit my irons better than I did today,” Woods said. “I didn’t hit them very close. I didn’t give myself a lot of looks out there.
“It’s hard to make a lot of birdies when you don’t give yourself a lot of looks.”
Woods, an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, will have work to do on Friday on the North Course, typically the more forgiving of the two in use over the first two rounds of the tournament.
Tony Finau seized the first-round lead with a seven-under par 65 on the North Course that included nine birdies and two bogeys.
Woods was among more than 20 players sharing 84th place.
“I didn’t think there were going to be that many good scores out there,” Woods admitted. “I mean I’m in over 80th spot and shot even par.”
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.”
The par-five 13th was a bit of a nightmare.
In the right rough off the tee, Woods’s second shot left him in the fairway 97 yards from the flag. From there Woods found a greenside bunker, and he finally missed a three-footer to save par.
Woods’s first bogey of the day came at the opening hole, where he was in the far left rough off the tee and then found a greenside bunker.
He narrowly missed a long birdie attempt at the par-three third before he was in two bunkers en route to a bogey at the fifth.
While Woods was relaxed enough to enjoy the Pacific Ocean view from the fourth hole, there were signs of frustration as well — including a swipe of his club after he found the rough off the tee at the par-three eighth.
“I just didn’t hit my irons very well today,” he said. “I didn’t give myself a lot of looks out there and consequently I didn’t make a lot of birdies.
“So tomorrow hopefully I can drive it a little bit better, hit my irons a lot closer.”
Meanwhile, Pádraig Harrington also finished his opening round on level par with four birdies cancelled out by as many bogeys, while Waterford’s Seamus Power and Shane Lowry are both three-under par.
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