Golf

Tiger impresses in first competitive outing in 10 months

Former world No. 1 fires a three-under 69 in first competitive round in 301 days

Tiger Woods dazzled in his much-anticipated return from injury at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, where the former world No. 1 flashed a fist pump and did not seem bothered by his troublesome back.

Woods, competing yesterday morning (Singapore time) for the first time after a near 10-month layoff, during which he had spinal fusion surgery, appeared pain free at the Albany course on the island of New Providence, where he mixed five birdies with two bogeys for a three-under 69.

That left him in a four-way share of eighth place and three shots behind Britain's Tommy Fleetwood after the first round of the elite 18-man event featuring eight of the world's top 10.

ENCOURAGING OPENER

After his encouraging opening round, Woods said in an interview with Sky Sports Golf: "For me, I thought I did great.

"I hadn't played in a while after some of the difficulties I've been through. To come out here and score like I did, that was nice.

"It was fun to get out there and actually be part of a scorecard again. I didn't know what I could do. I've been playing a lot of holes at home but it's a little different when you've got to tee it up in a tournament.

"I had a lot of adrenaline going there. I was hitting the ball a little bit longer than I normally do and had to dial it back a little bit. Those are the internal struggles I haven't been through as a player for a while.

"It was not only nice to get that first round out of the way, but I'm only three shots out of the lead."

Woods, who two months ago said he was hitting only 60-yard shots, drove mostly well off the tee, made some solid putts and impressive par saves, but at times also let out expletives and slammed his club in frustration.

Riding high after a pair of consecutive birdies, Woods was two shots off the lead at the par-five 15th hole when his tee shot sailed far right. He took a drop and went on to two-putt for his second bogey of the day.

From there, he went on to close out with a trio of pars to cap a round that showed, perhaps, that the 14-time Major champion still has plenty left.

After narrowly missing birdie putts on his opening two holes, Woods hit his approach shot at the par-five third to about 40 feet and went on to tap in for 
a birdie.

On the next hole, Woods caught his chip heavy and was left with a 15-footer from just off the green, from where he coolly rolled his ball into the middle of the cup for par before pumping his right fist to the delight of the cheering gallery.

Woods, who turns 42 on Dec 30, delivered a more subdued fist pump at the par-three eighth where he rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt after his tee shot settled on the edge of the green.

Playing alongside friend and FedExCup champion Justin Thomas, Woods, dressed in black with a white cap, showed his first bit of frustration at the par-five ninth when, after failing to reach the green in two, he made a mess of a chip.

Despite being about 30 feet from the cup after two shots, Woods settled for his first bogey of the day to reach the turn in one-under 35.

He responded nicely with a birdie from 15 feet at the next hole.

After his tee shot at the par-three 12th sailed wide right and into rough, Woods promptly slammed his club to the ground but quickly calmed down and delivered perhaps his best chip of the day to within four feet for a solid up and down.

MOMENTUM

He carried that momentum to the next hole where he rolled in his fourth birdie of the day, this time from 22 feet.

Woods laid up off the tee at the par-four 14th, then delivered a stunning wedge shot from 88 yards that settled about two feet from the cup, leading to his second consecutive birdie.

It appeared that Woods was about to make a charge to the top of the leaderboard at this point until his errant tee shot at 15 took the wind out of his sails.

A 79-time winner on the PGA Tour who was world No. 1 for a record 683 weeks, Woods lost form in recent years due to injuries and his ranking has plummeted to 1,199th.

This marks the second consecutive season that Woods has made his return to action at the tournament after a lengthy absence. He finished 15th in a 17-man field 12 months ago after a 15-month layoff.

Woods then missed the cut at Torrey Pines in January and withdrew from the Dubai Desert Classic the following week due to a back spasm. - WIRE SERVICES

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