It was not his back that gave the 38-year-old Woods trouble in Thursday's opening round of the Quicken Loans National at Congressional Country Club. It was his hands.
The touch around the greens that has often eluded Woods since he won the last of his 14 major championships six years ago was missing until the final six holes, when three birdies helped him overcome a terrible start to finish with a three-over par 74.
Still, Woods didn't make a putt longer than 10 feet, missed several short birdie and par save possibilities, and didn't chip particularly well. He shot a four-over 39 on his first nine holes — Congressional's back nine — and then made consecutive bogeys after the turn.
"Definitely [disappointing] because that's all I've been doing is chipping and putting," said Woods, who needed 31 putts. "I hit some bad shots. There are bad pitches and those are the ones I should get up-and-down [from off the green for par] every time."
While Woods struggled, first-round leader Greg Chalmers of Australia put together three straight birdies to close the front nine and finish at five-under-par 66. Erik Compton also had four in a row on the front — his back nine — to shoot 68.
Chalmers, who once held off Tiger Woods to win his second
Woods attributed the slow start to time missed while rehabbing from surgery to relieve a nerve impingement.
"I think the hard part was just getting into the rhythm of playing competitively. You play with your buddies for cash and it's just not the same," he said. "It's not the same as tournament golf. Different level. It unfortunately took a while to get the feel for it. You saw the putt I hit on 11 was awful. I left it 10, 12 feet short. My feels were off."
Though the stretch of birdies toward the end of the round — including two straight on the par-three seventh and par-four eighth — could help Woods stay around for the weekend, he finds himself trailing Chalmers by eight shots.
The return of Woods to the PGA Tour and Congressional, which has hosted several major championships, made the atmosphere surrounding his featured threesome seem more like a
By the time Woods,
"The way we all started was pretty poorly," said Day, who has been back for a month after missing time with a thumb injury that could require surgery. "I'm glad I got back to where I am today at the end of the day, and I'll just slowly try to build on it from there."
So will Woods, who toward the end of the round finally began resembling the player who has won 79 PGA Tour events. As he has done for years, Woods chose to look at the positives rather than the poor putting and mediocre chipping.
"The score is not really indicative of how I played," he said. "I made so many little mistakes."
Asked how his back is feeling, Woods said: "The back's great. I had no issues at all. No twinges, no nothing. It felt fantastic. That's one reason why I let go on those tee shots. I hit it pretty hard out there.… I drove it great. I felt comfortable."
Woods agreed it was a relief to be back on the tour.
"It really is," he said. "It's nice to get back out here playing again. I unfortunately have been in my career on the sidelines enough, so it's always fun to come back out here and play against these guys."
Woods attracted a large crowd for his 8:12 a.m. tee time, but fans seemed to disperse as he struggled and the start of the U.S.-Germany
As the tournament's host whose foundation benefits from drawing big crowds, it would certainly help if Woods made an early run of birdies in Friday's second round. If he can climb back into contention, Woods would point to what happened on the last six holes Friday.
"Just as I played, just the more I played, the more comfortable [I got] about shot selections, my sight lines, all different things," he said. "I've been off for a while and I've been held back where I just haven't been able to let it go. Now I'm able to start doing that, try to get my numbers again. That's always been a challenge."