Nassau, Bahamas, Dec 1 – Showing flashes of the form that made him a 14-time major champion before stumbling late, Tiger Woods fired a one-over-par 73 Thursday at the Hero World Challenge in his long-awaited return to competition.
Woods, who has missed 16 months following back surgery, made three consecutive birdies to share the lead at four under after his first eight holes of the 18-man invitational event he hosts in the Bahamas.
But Woods went five over from there and a closing double bogey left him nine strokes adrift of leader J.B. Holmes.
“All in all, I felt pretty good,” Woods said. “It could have been something really good. I hit the ball in three bushes and a water (hazard). Got it going sideways.”
Fomer world number one Woods, who has fallen to 898th in the rankings, birdied the par-5 third and sixth, par-4 seventh and par-3 eighth holes at 7,302-yard Albany Golf Club in his first competitive round since August 2015.
On the par-5 ninth, the course’s longest hole at 603 yards, Woods sent his tee shot into tall weeds and sand left of the fairway, botched a chip and took the first bogey of his comeback.
“I didn’t play the par-5s very well in the middle part of the round and consequently got it going the wrong way,” Woods said.
Another par-5 bogey came at 11 and while Woods birdied the par-5 15th, he found a double-bogey disaster at the par-4 16th and pulled his tee shot into the water to set up his woes at the last.
“Let a good round slip away at the end,” Woods said. “Some bushes and some rocks and it can go sideways.”
Woods was 17th in the field and will play in the first pairing Friday alongside Rio Olympic champion Justin Rose of England, who shot 74.
Woods played Thursday alongside fellow American Patrick Reed in often windy conditions to end his longest career layoff after 466 days.
Clad in black shirt, pants, cap and shoes, Woods found the left rough on his first shot but put his approach 15 feet from the hole and tapped in for an opening par.
By then, surprisingly, Woods found himself into a rhythm, saying the best part of the day was “how quickly I got into the competitive flow of the round.”
“By the time I hit my second tee shot, I found the flow of the round. That came pretty fast after not playing for 16 months.”
Woods went over a raised green at the par-5 third hole but chipped to 18 inches and tapped in for his comeback’s first birdie.
Revealing a bald spot on the back of his head when removing his cap to wipe sweat, Woods appeared fit and swung with comfort and ease.
Woods sank eight-foot birdie putts at the par-5 sixth and par-4 seventh and followed with a two-foot birdie putt at the par-3 eighth before his bogey at nine, a hole he eagled in a pro-am Wednesday.
– Double bogeys spelled doom –
Woods found sand left and right of the fairway at the par-5 11th and took a bogey. At the par-3 12th, Woods made a tense four-foot par putt. At 14, he found greenside sand and then a bunker but escaped with par after making a 15-foot putt, pumping his right fist even before the ball fell.
At the par-5 15th, Woods gave himself a 10-foot eagle putt but rolled it two feet past the cup and settled for birdie.
But double bogey sixes at 16 and 18 doomed what could have been a solid round. A poor iron shot at 16 found sandy weeds and he found water off the 18th tee then hit the flagstick on his par chip.
Woods blamed his poor finish on errors, not fatigue.
“I just made some really silly mistakes, mistakes I don’t normally make, but I haven’t played in a while,” he said. “I can clean that up. We’ve got three more days. Wind’s supposed to pump on the weekend and I’ll be playing a little bit better.”
Woods, who turns 41 on December 30, had not played competitively since he shared 10th at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, North Carolina, in August 2015.