After 301 days away from competition, Tiger Woods returned to the Hero World Challenge – and shot a 3-under-par 69
It was a long awaited and much speculated about return following nine months of absence as he recovered from a fourth back surgery, and Tiger Woods did not disappoint.
Carding five birdies, two bogeys and finishing the day three behind leader Tommy Fleetwood, Woods’ first round lived up to a mixture of what we’ve heard and what we expected: Long shots off the tee, great iron shots, and a little rusty with his chipping around the greens.
It might be a little too soon to tell if he can continue in the same vein, but it was a very positive start for the 41-year-old on his return, who tied with playing partner (and 2017 Player of the Year) Justin Thomas at three-under-par.
“For me, I thought I did great,” Woods said. “To come out here and score like I did, it was nice.”
His round, which started with two narrowly missed birdie chances on the first two holes, included a first birdie on the third and a fist pump by the fourth green.
The iconic Tiger move was a response to an 18-foot par putt save that came directly after he chunked his first chip, which was something he did last year during his return to golf at the same event after a 15-month hiatus, again caused by back problems.
However, unlike a year ago, it was a less laboured Tiger Woods, who appeared not to be suffering during his swings or show any real fatigue – but rather only had regrets of rueing chances missed at the par-fives, which he played in one-over.
Recap his round here
Coming off a 25-foot birdie putt on the par-3 eighth, Woods hit a 3-wood that rolled up on to the par-five 9th green and then down a slope about 30 feet from the pin. It took him four shots from there, starting with a chip that didn’t reach the green.
Not deterred by a second dropped shot, Woods responded with an instant gain on the 10th hole, and went on to produce his best shot of the day three holes later, putting a pitching wedge to a foot behind the hole for birdie on No. 14.
At four-under par he was closing in on the leaders, but his first truly wayward drive on the day found the native dunes right of the fairway on 15. Woods had to take a penalty drop to get back in play and wound up making bogey, before parring his way in on the final three holes.
“It was not only nice to get the first round out of the way, but also I’m only three shots out of the lead,” he said. “So to be able to put myself there after not playing for 10 months or so, it was nice to feel the adrenaline out there.”
He was tied for eighth in the 18-man field of this holiday exhibition that awards world ranking points but does not count as official on any tour. Behind Fleetwood are Rickie Fowler and Matt Kuchar with 67s, while Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose and Kevin Chappell all had 68s.
After his round, Woods said that he was very appreciative of everyone that has helped him get to this point where he was able to play again, and told press he had been very thankful before his round on Thursday at Albany Golf Club.
“I was in my head thanking all the people who have helped me in giving me a chance to come back and play this round again,” he said. “There were a lot of people who were instrumental in my life — friends, outside people I’ve never bet before, obviously my surgeon. I was very thankful.”
While the field is short, the competition is strong with eight of the top in the world at Albany. Woods realizes they have spent the last couple of years playing at a high level that allows them to overcome a few mistakes.
“I don’t want to lose shots,” Woods said. “I haven’t played in a very long time and I can’t afford to go out there and make a bunch of bogeys and know that I can make nine, 10 birdies and offset them.”
FedExCup winner Justin Thomas, who also opened with a 69 in the same pairing with Woods, is among those who have played with him in recent weeks in Florida. Woods said he once played nine straight days.
“It was what I saw when we played at home,” Thomas said. “Obviously, taking this much time off from competition is hard. I felt rusty starting after a month-and-a-half, so I can’t imagine what it felt like for him. But he played well.”
Friday Tee Times (local/uk time): Hero World Challenge
11.10am/ 4.10pm: Alex Noren & Daniel Berger
11.21am/ 4.21pm: Brooks Koepka & Patrick Reed
11.32am/ 4.32pm: Kevin Kisner & Hideki Matsuyama
11.43am/ 4.43pm: Tiger Woods & Henrik Stenson
11.54am/ 4.54pm: Charley Hoffman & Justin Thomas
12.05pm/ 5.05pm: Jordan Spieth & Francesco Molinari
12.16pm/ 5.16pm: Justin Rose & Dustin Johnson
12.27pm/ 5.27pm: Matt Kuchar & Kevin Chappell
12.38pm/ 5.38pm: Tommy Fleetwood & Rickie Fowler