MIAMI, March 13 – Tiger Woods returned to stroke play competition at the WGC-CA Championship on Thursday, but he was upstaged by a couple of other major champions.While Woods struggled to buy a putt in a steady one-under-par 71, South African Retief Goosen and American Phil Mickelson went six strokes better to share the first-round lead with Indian Jeev Milkha Singh and Thailand’s Prayad Marksaeng.
"It was a little bit frustrating on those greens today," said Woods, who is contesting his first stroke play event since undergoing major left knee surgery last June.
"I hit so many putts that looked good but they just didn’t go in. It’s not like I was playing poorly or struggling all the way around.
"I need to be just a touch sharper. I hit the ball well all day. If a few putts went in, score would have been totally different."
Fellow American Mickelson showed one way to avoid putting altogether, chipping in three times, including at the final two holes.
"I felt going into this tournament that I was playing as well as I ever have," said the three-time major champion, who bounced back from a double bogey at the par-four third, where he hit his second shot into the water guarding the green.
"From 50 yards in, my short game has never been this good and I’ve never driven the ball this long and straight."
"My iron play is better than it has been in quite some time, and I expect that to improve as the week goes on."
South African Goosen reverted to the putter he used to win the United States Open in 2001 and 2004, and the move paid immediate dividends.
"It’s nice to see it coming out of retirement," quipped Goosen, who used the putter just 23 times. "It’s been in a dark corner of the garage.
"The key is I really like the Bermuda grass greens. I seem to putt a lot better on those than on the West Coast. I read the grain easier. I’ve done well here in the past. Last year I had a good chance of winning and this year I’m off to a good start."
Singh, not to be confused with Fiji’s Vijay, doesn’t have the prettiest swing, but he sure knows how to putt.
"I putted well and I think that’s why you shoot a score like that," said the London-based 37-year-old. I worked quite hard on my putting last week and I think it’s showing, and hopefully it keeps showing.
"I’m pretty happy with the way I played today. I’ve been hitting the ball great."
Prayad, meanwhile, slipped away after his round without talking to the media, but his clubs did the talking as he finished with three successive birdies.
Prayad, who beat a quality international field to win the Dunlop Phoenix tournament in Japan in November, needs a strong finish here to qualify for next month’s Masters.
He is ranked 55th in the world, and the top 50 as of March 30 will be exempt for Augusta.