LOS ANGELES — The power is there. The precision continues to be an issue early in Tiger Woods‘ comeback.
Hitting just 7 of 18 greens in regulation, Woods still managed to shoot 1-over-par 72 on Thursday at Riviera Country Club to settle into the middle of the pack through one round of the Genesis Open.
“I thought it was all right,” Woods said. “I made some silly bogeys, but I thought I hung in there and grinded.”
It was anything but routine. After birdieing his first hole of the day, the par-4 10th, Woods fired his first tee shot with a driver way right at the par-5 11th, the ball finding a tree and never dislodging.
That meant a hike back to the tee due to the lost ball, resulting in a double-bogey 7.
Woods struggled to find fairways early, and it resulted in another bogey at the 12th hole.
But from there, he mostly settled down, a mixture of good drives and not-so-good but far too many missed greens. He needed only 25 putts and showed some of the scrambling prowess that saved him three weeks ago at Torrey Pines.
“I’m not that far off to really putting some good numbers out there,” said Woods, who trailed leaders Patrick Cantlay and Tony Finau by six strokes. “I’ve got to clean up my card; too many bogeys out there. I’m not really worried about 11 [the ball in the tree], but I made too many bogeys. If I can just clean that up, I can start making my way up the board.”
Sam Saunders, one stroke off the lead, was teeing off on the par-3 fourth when he looked down the hill at Woods playing the 18th.
“I looked over and watched because I grew up watching Tiger do what he did,” Saunders said. “And I’m a big fan like we all are out here and it’s really cool to see him out and we all want him to be out here every week and playing well. It just brings a different buzz to the tournament and it’s really good for the game of golf, so it’s cool for me to be playing in a tournament that he’s playing in and be able to compete against him, a guy that I grew up just in awe of basically.”
As was the case three weeks ago at the Farmers Insurance Open, Woods left himself little room for error as far as making the 36-hole cut, which will come Friday with the top 70 players and ties. Woods was tied for 71st early in the afternoon. There were two instances of massive, contorted swings out of the rough — with seemingly no effect on his back, which is nine months removed from surgery.
“It all started at Torrey,” he said. “Some of those shots I went after at Torrey I didn’t feel anything and that’s the confidence I needed, that validation that I’m good, and I was able to find that at Torrey. I unfortunately drove it in every single piece of high grass that Torrey has, so I got a lot of experience, a lot of testing on my back and it all went well.”
But there are still issues with the driver. Woods used it nine times, hitting four fairways but missing five. And of those holes where he missed, Woods was 4 over par.
Still, that was better than at Torrey Pines, where he averaged just over 4 fairways per round and finished the week with just 17 fairways hit out of 56 opportunities. It was a career-worst performance.
Woods said he spent time over the past two weeks tweaking the specifications on the club, including a stronger shaft. His strokes gained off the tee ranked near the bottom of the field, and yet there was progress.
“He hit some great drives coming in, he drove it much better,” McIlroy said. “This morning it was cold and if you don’t quite release it that much, it can get away from you pretty easily. I had a couple get away from me and didn’t feel I hit it that bad. He was unlucky with that ball in the tree on 11. That should never happen. He hit it much better on the back nine; I saw some good signs, just a better rhythm, a little bit better tempo from the top.”
Woods’ return to his hometown event for the first time in 12 years brought some of the same frustrations he encountered when he played the PGA Tour event at Riviera Country Club during his prime.
Making only his third tournament start since undergoing spinal fusion surgery last April, Woods, 42, had not played this event since withdrawing after two rounds in 2006.
That was his 11th appearance in the event without a victory, including two as an amateur. The first time Woods played the tournament was as a 16-year-old amateur in 1992.
He will begin the second round on Friday at 3:02 p.m. ET.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.