ORLANDO (AFP) – Tiger Woods made a woeful start to his latest injury comeback Thursday, firing a five-over par 77 to stand last after round one of the 18-player Hero World Challenge.
The former world number one ended a four-month competitive layoff with four bogeys, one birdie and a double bogey at Isleworth, a 7,354-yard layout where Woods once fired a 59 in a practice round with Mark O’Meara. Woods, who had not played in an event since the PGA Championship in August while recovering from a back injury, was five-over after eight holes and played the inward nine at par but showed he still has plenty of work remaining to recapture the form that brought him 14 major titles, four shy of Jack Nicklaus’ all-time record.
“It was just one of those days where nothing goes your way,” Woods said. “I feel like I didn’t hit it that poorly.”
Woods, who turns 39 on December 30, has not won a major title since the 2008 US Open. He must become the first player to win four majors beyond his 39th birthday to match Nicklaus.
Woods stood 11 strokes behind 21-year-old leader Jordan Spieth, who opened with a 66 after winning the Australian Open last week. He sank a 20-foot par putt at 18 to stay one in front of fellow Americans Rickie Fowler, Steve Stricker and Zach Johnson and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson.
“It would have been tough to finish with bogey,” said Spieth, who won a college event at Isleworth. “It was nice to close that one out.”
While Woods struck the ball with speed and power and showed no sign of the back pain that sidelined him most of the year, he was erratic off the tee at the start, sending his first three drives well left.
“I have zero pain,” Woods said. Haven’t said that in a long time. It’s nice to be able to launch it again.”
Woods botched four chip shots, a sign his once-mighty short game needs more work than he has managed in the month since he resumed hitting golf shots.
“My short game was awful,” Woods said. “I didn’t make anything. It certainly is surprising I could hit chips that poorly. I flubbed them. I hit some terrible chips.”
One round will not make or break a comeback, but by hitting only 9-of-14 fairways and 11-of-18 greens in regulation, Woods indicated any return to form will be a long and difficult journey. “I made too many mistakes,” Woods said.
Woods sent his first tee shot since August 8 out of bounds to the left off the first tee on his way to a bogey.