Tiger Woods recorded a three-under 69 on his comeback from back surgery in first round of the Hero World Challenge in The Bahamas
More telling than a score of three under par in stiff crosswinds, 27 putts, one f-word, a club smashed into a tee in anger and his return to competitive golf after 301 days was the sentiment Tiger Woods offered in its aftermath.
Gone was the cautious approach displayed by the 14-times major winner in the buildup to the Hero World Challenge. Eighteen holes had loosened Woodss inhibitions to the point where the competitive animal came roaring back long before he signed for his 69.
Does he now believe he can win? Yes. Did the first round fully endorse that feeling? Yes. The man who made a career out of sparking fear into others on the leaderboard was at it again.
It was not only nice to get the first round out of the way but Im only three shots off the lead, Woods said. So to be able to put myself there after not playing for 10 months or so it was nice to feel the adrenaline.
I looked up at the boards. I wanted to see what the guys were doing. On the 3rd I smashed a drive down there, had about 265 into the wind with a 2-iron. I put it up there on the green. I knew I was back playing again.
Woods had cause to be upbeat. He had matched fevered external anticipation with performance. On his comeback from a fourth back surgery, Woods displayed no physical shortcomings. He drove the ball beautifully, putted with confidence and managed to cling on at times when the round threatened to run away from him. Woods will not admit it but this was almost the ideal opening.
I was in position to get to five, six, seven under par but I made a couple of mistakes, he said. I was very thankful this morning. I was in my head thanking all the people who have helped me in giving me a chance to come back and play again. There were a lot of people that were instrumental in my life; friends, outside people Ive never met before, my surgeon. I made sure in my head to thank every one of them.
Woodss reached the turn in 34, which was a disappointment owing to the dropping of a shot at the par-five ninth. His language laid bare his feelings. It was a source of post-round frustration to Woods that he played Albanys quintet of par-fives in a wasteful aggregate of plus one. Poor chipping was key to that but can be forgiven; areas around the greens on this course are notoriously tricky, just as that area of any players game is susceptible to rust after a concerted layoff.
Woods had fought back with a birdie at the 10th before a loose tee shot at the 12th preceded a club slam and turf damage in a fit of pique. He was to save par and birdie the next two with the only stumble thereafter coming after he was forced to take a drop from an unplayable lie at the 15th. That hole had seen Woodss only wild drive of the round, seemingly the consequence of an adrenaline rush that saw him try to lash the ball.
In seeking to prove this is not only the Woods show, Tommy Fleetwood took the lead courtesy of a bogey-free 66. Fleetwood, who will get married here on Tuesday, is playing in his sixth consecutive week in a fifth country. Matt Kuchar and Rickie Fowler are a shot back. Justin Rose is among four players on 68.
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