Tiger Woods double bogeyed two of his last three holes to turn a potential 68 into a one over 73 on his return from a 16-month injury layoff in the invitational Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.
But while many obituaries were penned for the 14-time major winner when he admitted 12 months ago that any more wins will be “just gravy” on top, he showed enough flashes of dynamite in an impressive opening eight holes at the Albany Golf Club to give the neutral observer reason to believe that he may not be finished as a competitive force.
Naturally, the 41-year old California is far less physically explosive than he was at his peak following his long injury lay off following multiple back surgeries.
He’s certainly nowhere near as powerful or consistent off the tee as leader JB Holmes, who played the five-par fives in five under par to card an eight under 64 for a one shot lead over Hideki Matsuyama and a two shot advantage over US Open Dustin Johnson.
Woods was like his old self early in the day, especially with his irons as he birdied the par-five third following a deft pitch and then hit some fine approach to feel off three birdies in a row from the sixth and briefly lead on four under par.
A pulled drive into trouble at the ninth led to a bogey six and an outward 33. And he was always on the back foot off the tee after that, finishing 6-3-6 for a homeward nine of 40 to end the day 17th in the 18-man field, just one stroke ahead of Justin Rose.
“If you think about it, I hit it in three bushes and had a water ball today,” said Woods, who tangled with scrub at the 16th and then pulled his tee shot into water at the last. “It could have been something really good today.
“I got off to a nice solid start and then made a few mistakes and didn’t play the par-fives very well in the middle of the round and consequently got it going the wrong way.”
Lamenting his waywardness off the tee, he added: “If you are driving it great here, you can take advantage of this golf course and take it apart.
"But if you are not, you have some bushes, some rocks and it can go sideways. All in all, I felt pretty good and I’m looking forward to three more days.”
There was much for Woods to be positive about and while he shot over par, that he did it with four sixes on his card shows that he can still hit many quality iron shots and hole key putts.
Asked what pleased him most about his round, he said: “I think it was how quickly I fell into the competitive flow to the round.”
He added: “To be able to play for the first time in 15-16 months and get [the flow] on the second hole was nice.”
Hero World Challenge, the Albany GC, The Bahamas (Par 72, US unless stated)
64 J.B. Holmes
65 Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn)
66 Dustin Johnson
67 Henrik Stenson (Swe), Matt Kuchar, Louis Oosthuizen (RSA)
68 Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth
69 Russell Knox (Sco)
70 Jimmy Walker, Emiliano Grillo (Arg)
72 Bubba Watson, Brandt Snedeker, Zach Johnson, Patrick Reed, Brooks Koepka
73 Tiger Woods
74 Justin Rose (Eng)