AP/Press Association Images Tiger Woods watches his tee shot from the fourth hole during the Pro-Am at the Hero World Challenge golf tournament.

Returning Tiger soars with two eagles in pro-am

The former world number one, sidelined since August 2015 after back surgery, ends the longest layoff of his career.

TIGER WOODS MADE two eagles in a pro-am event Wednesday, firing a two-under par 70 under casual scoring on the eve of his return to competitive golf at the Hero World Challenge.

“It felt good out there,” Woods said after his round alongside five amateur players. “I did a little bit of work for probably I’m guessing 12 holes or so. After that, we were jawing pretty good.”

The former world number one, sidelined since August 2015 after back surgery, ends the longest layoff of his career after 466 days in the 18-man invitational event at Albany Golf Club, a Bahamas oceanside resort where six of the world’s 10 top players will play.

“I’ll be focused,” Woods said. “I’ll be ready.”

Woods, who has slid to 898th in the rankings during his layoff, sank a 15-foot eagle putt at the par-5 third then told his amateur playing partners, “I’m done guys. I helped the team.”

But he wasn’t finished. Woods added a 12-footer for eagle at the par-5 ninth and displayed solid strength off the tee and trademark skill at chipping and putting, closing with a 15-foot par putt.

“I felt good with pretty much everything,” Woods said. “I was able to hit all the shots I needed to hit.”

With windblown sand an issue across the 7,303-yard Ernie Els-designed layout, the biggest blunder Woods made was not wearing sunglasses.

Probably did a dumb move not playing in sunglasses,” he said. “I’m starting to get a pretty good headache from squinting so much. Live and learn. Tomorrow I’ll have them on.”

Woods, a month shy of his 41st birthday, said he needed work on the putting green.

“My speed is off,” he said. “Most of the putts I left short. I need a little bit of work this afternoon.”

- Adrenaline puzzle -

Woods, who tees off at noon (1700 GMT) Thursday alongside fellow American Patrick Reed, had said his biggest worry after 16 months away was how he would handle the adrenaline rush of facing rivals.

I would say probably I’m the most concerned about trying to get a feel for the distance,” Woods said. “I haven’t had adrenaline in my system in a while and having that surge of adrenaline through my system, how much further is this ball going to be going?

“I know it generally is a half a club, but is it going to be more than that because I haven’t played or is it going to be less than that or be about that? I’ve always been pretty good at hitting the ball pin high. I’m more concerned about what my body is going to be feeling, the energy, the surge of adrenaline going through my system.”

His intent remains to win — the same as it always has been during a career that saw him win 14 major titles, four shy of Jack Nicklaus’ all-time record, and 79 PGA crowns, three shy of Sam Snead’s career mark.

I’m going to try to win this thing,” Woods said. “That’s a tall order since I’ve been away from the game for so long and I’ve made a lot of different changes in my game, but the mindset’s still the same.

“When I get out there and I compete and I play, it’s going to be normal. I’m going to get out there and I’m going to try and put the ball in the right spots and make birdies and post a low score and get this title.”

One thing Woods achieved during his forced absence was to unify his business dealings under the TGR brand.

“Basically I’m setting up phase two of my life,” Woods said. “I call it phase two because I can’t play this game forever at a competitive, high level. Setting up my business entities is going to take a load off my shoulders in that regard, so that I’m able to devote more time to my golf while I still can and be at the level.”

© AFP 2016

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