Rory McIlroy came out with all guns blazing but Tiger Woods fired blanks in the opening round of the $9 million Northern Trust in New Jersey.
McIlroy made an eagle and five birdies in a six-under 65 at Liberty National to lie trail clubhouse leader Troy Merritt by just three strokes in the first of three FedExCup Playoff events.
Open champion Shane Lowry returned to action with a two-under 69 in his first start since his heroics at Royal Portrush.
But fears for Woods' fitness are only rising after he struggled to a four-over 75 on a day when the field was averaging well under 70.
The world number five has played just 13 competitive rounds since his Masters triumph and broken 70 just twice.
"I just didn't play well," said Woods, who was projected to fall from 28th to 35th in the FedExCup standings with only the top 30 making it to the Tour Championship in Atlanta in a fortnight, where he would be the defending champion.
"It just feels frustrating to shoot anything high, no matter how I feel. I've got to get into the red at the end of the day tomorrow for sure."
Merritt made nine birdies and nine pars in a 62, holing 149-feet of putts to lead by a shot from Dustin Johnson, whose 63 was his lowest round this year.
Kevin Kisner and Dubai Duty Free Irish Open Jon Rahm also took advantage of a course softened by heavy overnight rain to fire seven-under 64s.
McIlroy was a shot further back after outscoring playing partners Matt Kuchar and FedExCup leader Brooks Koepka by five shots and admitted that he will have to play aggressively to contend.
"It's so soft out there, you need to shoot low scores this week to have a chance," said McIlroy who bogeyed his opening hole but them made an eagle and five birdies.
"Obviously I'm still three shots behind the lead at this point, and there are some pretty good players that have shot good scores, so I'm going to have to keep the foot down.
"There's not much rough out there, anyway, so it's sort of bombs away with the driver and try to get it up as far as you can and go from there."
Lowry followed a birdie at the first with a bogey at the third and a double-bogey at the fifth following a tee shot into the water.
But after making birdie at the par-five eighth to turn in one-over, he came home in three-under 32 for his 69 and can be pleased with his return to action.
McIlroy is tied for fifth with Tony Finau, Webb Simpson and Justin Rose with Lowry joint 51st and Graeme McDowell tied 82nd following his level par 71.
It was tougher going for Leona Maguire and Stephanie Meadow in the ASI Ladies Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club where they were ten strokes behind leaders Jane Park, Anne van Dam and Mi Hyang Lee after two-over 73s.
But Tramore's Robin Dawson shot a four-under 68 and was just four shots behind leaders Roope Kakko and Pep Angles on nine-under at halfway in the weather-delayed Made in Denmark Challenge.
Castleknock's David Carey a shot further back after also shooting 68 but West Waterford's Gary Hurley missed the season’s low cut — six-under par— by one shot after a 68 with Ruaidhri McGee on level par and Conor O’Rourke three-over.
Boys denied by England in Home Internationals
In amateur golf, there was disappointment for Ireland in the Boys’ Home Internationals at Ashburnham in Wales, where they fell 8-7 to reigning champions England on the final day for the second year running.
They were on track to win the title for the first time since 2013 when they raced into a 3.5-1.5 lead after the foursomes.
But a star-studded England won five of the first seven singles to go ahead and wrapped up their fourth successive title.
World number two Conor Gough led his side in the first singles matches and gained a halve against Tom McKibbin. That result took the score to 4-2. Joseph Pagdin and Robin Williams quickly evened the score at 4-4 with respective victories over Luke O’Neill and Aaron Marshal.
Ireland’s Joshua Hill hit back with a 5&4 victory over Barclay Brown to put Ireland ahead. Hill deserves special mention as the reigning McGregor Trophy champion was the only player over the three days to win six points out of six. England’s Max Hopkins wasn’t far behind, winning five and a half of a possible six points.
Hill’s brilliant play couldn’t stop the English comeback though. The trio of Hopkins, Enrique Dimayuga and Habebul Islam put three further points on the board to take their side to seven points and within reach of a fourth straight title win.
Islam’s match proved key to England’s success. He held a one-hole lead against Simon Walker playing the last and looked like he might lose the hole when he hit his second shot close to the out of bounds line on the left. He then made the up and down of his young life, pitching the ball from 80 yards to four feet and holing the subsequent putt for par after Walker had missed his 20-foot birdie putt.
Cue delight from the English players watching Islam playing the 18th. That point set up Callum Macfie to deliver the coup de grace. He duly did so by birdieing the 17th hole to defeat Max Kennedy 2&1 and ensure England retained the trophy for yet another year.
Scotland and Wales finally got some joy in the foursomes after difficult results in the first two days. They split the session 2½-2½ to set up an intriguing singles contest in the match for third place. Scotland won the session 6½-3½ to beat the Welsh 9-6 and finish third.
“Even though we lost the foursomes this morning, I just felt that we could get six points out of the singles and that would do the job,” said England captain Stephen Burnett.
“We’ve got a very strong team and I knew they might just be stronger over the closing nine holes when the conditions got a little tougher.
“The wind picked up and the back nine played harder and the boys showed their talent by turning matches around that Ireland could’ve won. We got a lot of good performances today. I thought Conor’s (Gough) half point in the first match was important to get us off to a good start. Habebul’s (Islam) par at the 18th when he got up and down from 80 yards was crucial because it set up Callum (Macfie) to take us over the line, which he did. I’m over the moon.”
Alasdair Gibson, Ireland captain, said: “For the second year in a row we’ve just came up short. That’s golf. The first nine holes of the singles we were looking okay and it just turned around a bit. We were always struggling in matches there on the back nine.
“We did very well this morning in the foursomes. The boys played very well. The golf this afternoon was very good. There were a lot of birdies out there and at the end of the day they got more than we did. It was good effort but we just came up short. There’s no shame in losing to a strong team like England.”
Ireland can hold their heads up high after a week that saw Galgorm Castle’s Joshua Hill finish the week as the only player with six wins from six while Royal Dublin’s Max Kennedy and Baltinglass’ Joseph Byrne both won five out of six.
There was better news for Ireland at Downfield in Scotland where the Girls' and Women's teams recorded matching 6.5-2.5 wins over Wales and now face England for their respective Home International titles today.
At Ashburnham GC, Wales - Boys Home Internationals
Day 3: Scotland 9, Wales 6;
England 8, Ireland 7 (England names first)
C Gough & R Williams lost to T McKibbin & L O'Neill 3&2;
J Pagdin & B Brown bt A Marshall & S Walker 3&2;
M Hopkins & J Bigham halved with F Hickey & D Keating;
E Dimayuga & G Leigh lost to J Mackin & M Kennedy 3&2;
J Kelso & C Macfie lost to J Byrne & J Hill 3&2.
Gough halved with McKibbin;
Padgin bt O'Neill 2 h;
Williams bt Marshall 2&1;
Brown lost to Hill 5&4;
Hopkins bt Mackin 1 h;
Dimayuga bt McCabe 3&2;
H Islam bt S Walker 1 h;
Bingham lost to Hickey 4&3;
Macfie bt Kennedy 2&1;
Kelso lost to Byrne 2 h.
Final standings: 1, Eng 3 pts; 2, Ire 2; 3, Sco 1; 4, Wal 0.
At Downfield GC, Scotland - Girls' Home Internationals
Day 2: England 8.5, Scotland 0.5;
Wales 2.5, Ireland 6.5 (Wales names first)
F Tynan & D Harry lost to A Donegan & A Foster 6&4;
C Worby & H Lockley bt S Byrne & B Coulter 2&1;
G Mayo & K Tran lost to A Dawson & K Lanigan 3&1.
Tran halved with J Browne;
Worby bt Foster 4&3;
Tynan lost to Donegan 2&1;
Harry lost to Byrne 3&2;
Lockley lost to Coulter 4&3;
Nicholas lost to Lanigan 3&2.
Standings: 1, Eng 2 pts; 2, Ire 2pts; 3, Wal 0; 4, Sco 0.
Today - Ire v Eng; Sco v Wal.
Women's Home Internationals
England 6, Scotland 3;
Wales 2.5, Ireland 6.5 (Wales names first)
C Evans-Brand & L Jones lost to A Wilson & J Ross 6&4;
K O'Connor & A Bramwell lost to C Ryan & R Thompson 4&3;
J Ryan & B Harries lost to L Walsh & P Grant 2&1.
Bramwell bt Ross 4&3;
Hillier lost to Ryan 4&3;
O'Connor bt Burke 4&2;
Harries halved with Walsh;
Ryan lost to Thompson 3&2;
Jones lost to Grant 3&2.
Standings: 1, Eng 2 pts; 2, Ire 2; 3, Sco 0; 4, Wal 0.
Today: Ire v Eng; Sco v Wal.