NASSAU, Bahamas (AP) — Tiger Woods sure didn’t look as though he hasn’t competed in 15 months.
Coming back from two back surgeries and the longest break in his career, Woods missed only one green and ran off three straight birdies Thursday in the Hero World Challenge to share the early lead. He ended the front nine with his lone bogey — a flubbed pitch from a difficult lie — and made the turn at 3-under par.
He was tied for fourth midway through the round at Albany Golf Club.
Curiosity was greater than expectations of Woods, who was plagued by injuries even before taking the break. This is his first competition since Aug. 23, 2015, when he tied for 10th in the Wyndham Championship.
With his first meaningful shot, he tugged his drive slightly onto the edge of a bunker, but hit that into 15 feet and made par.
The rest of the way, he looked like he belonged in the 18-man field of players from the top 50 in the world. The exception is Woods, No. 898 because of his long hiatus, but likely to move up quickly.
He answered a few questions early, not only with a 342-yard drive with a strong tropical breeze at his back, but with a tight draw. Woods went over the back of the third green and faced a 30-yard pitch. That came off perfectly, checking and rolling out to 2 feet for a birdie .
He missed his first green on the next hole after pulling a shot out of the waste area, leaving a tougher pitch up the slope. He played a chunk-and-run to 3 feet to save par, and two holes later hit a flop shot from 40 yards to 5 feet for birdie.
Woods birdied the next two holes with a wedge into 5 feet and then his most impressive play of the opening round, a tee shot on the par-3 eighth to 2 feet. “One yard!” Woods said to the ball as it was in the air, asking for perfection, which is more than most would have expected.
He ended the front nine with a tee shot that went no more than a yard into the dunes, leaving him such an awkward lie that he had a hard time keeping his feet from slipping. He got it back into the fairway, came up short and left of the green, and flubbed his pitch . The ball rolled back down the slope, and Woods pitched the next one to just outside 3 feet and made that for bogey.