MIAMI, United States, Nov 30 – Former world number one Tiger Woods made a satisfying return on Thursday in his latest comeback after a 10-month layoff punctuated by back surgery and personal problems.
Woods, playing his first round of tournament golf in 301 days, fired a three-under-par 69 in the opening round of the Hero World Challenge at Albany Golf Club in the Bahamas.
The 41-year-old 14-time major champion carded five birdies and two bogeys in an encouraging first outing since injury forced his withdrawal at the Dubai Desert Classic in February.
“I thought I did great,” said a smiling Woods, who is three shots back from leader Tommy Fleetwood, who posted a six-under-par 66.
“I hadn’t played in a while after some difficulties, so to come out here and score like I did was nice,” Woods added. “It was fun to be out there and be part of a scorecard again.”
Woods underwent back surgery in April in the latest of a series of injury setbacks which also forced him to miss the entire 2015-2016 season.
He admitted he had not known what to expect on his return to competitive golf.
“I didn’t know what I could do. I’ve been playing golf, been playing a lot of holes at home,” Woods said.
“But it’s a little different when you’ve got to tee it up in a tournament. I had a lot of adrenaline going there.
“I had to dial it back a little bit. Those are the internal struggles I haven’t had for a while.”
After narrowly missing with two birdie putts on the opening two holes, Woods made his first birdie of the day on the par-five third, reaching the green in two before two-putting.
A further birdie on the eighth — when he drained a 20-foot putt — put him at two under before a botched chip led to a bogey on the ninth.
– ‘Very thankful’ –
However Woods came roaring back after the turn, with birdies on the 10th, 13th and 14th to move to four under before a bogey on 16 halted his momentum.
Thursday’s round follows a difficult year for Woods, who in addition to his injury problems has also battled demons in his private life. He was arrested for driving under the influence in May after being found asleep in his Mercedes-Benz by the side of the road near his home in Florida.
Woods, who was found to have five drugs including the powerful opioid hydrocodone in his system, later revealed he had undergone professional treatment to help him manage his medications.
Woods said he had paid a mental tribute to all those who had enabled him to return to the sport he once dominated before he teed off on Thursday.
“I was very thankful this morning,” he said. “I was in my head thanking all the people that have really helped me and gave me a chance to come back and play this round again.
“There were a lot of people that were instrumental in my life — friends, outside people I’ve never met before, obviously my surgeon — a lot of people.
“I tried to make sure in my head I thanked every one of them.”
Woods also revealed the support he had received from fellow professionals during his recovery had helped him return.
“The guys have been great. They’re all trying to help me — they’re always texting me to say ‘Hey, come on, let’s go out and play,'” Woods said.
“They really want to help me come back and play.”
Woods, whose 79 career PGA Tour wins are three shy of Sam Snead’s all-time record, has not won a major title since the 2008 US Open and has not won any event since the 2013 World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational.