Woods nine strokes adrift of leader on return

Tiger Woods fired a one-over-par 73 on Thursday at the Hero World Challenge in his long-awaited return to competition. He was nine strokes adrift of leader J.B. Holmes.

Tiger Woods Hero World Challenge

Tiger Woods watches his tee shot on the third hole during the first round at the Hero World Challenge golf tournament on Thursday.   -  AP

Tiger Woods returned to competitive golf in a steady and spectacular fashion, hitting four birdies in the first eight holes and sharing an early lead, before falling away to finish with one-over-par 73 after the opening round of the Hero World Challenge at the Albany Golf Course here on Thursday.

J.B. Holmes recovered from a bogey start and notched up seven birdies and an eagle to be on the top of the leader board with a 64, a stroke ahead of the consistent Hideki Matsuyama who scored the other eagle of the day in the USD 3.5 million event.

There was no doubt the player to track on the day would be the five-time champion, who teed off exactly at noon in the company of last year’s runner-up Patrick Reed. After opening with pars thanks to efficient approaches, Woods delighted the sizeable ‘Tiger Troop’ moving along with him by grabbing his first birdie on the par-five third.

With the initial adrenaline rush having subsided, Woods toted up three straight birdies beginning with the sixth hole before disaster struck on the ninth. A wayward drive, which dropped the ball in the forage, and a poor chip shaved off a stroke.

With a lone birdie in the card on the back nine and thanks a bogey on the 11th and double trouble both on the 16th and the final hole, which also had a water ball, the American returned to the clubhouse satisfied but critical of some silly mistakes.

“It felt good. Once I got into the feel of the round, got off to a nice start, I was four under for a little bit. Unfortunately, hit the ball in three bushes and had a water ball, so consequently I let a really good round slip away at the end,” said Woods when queried about his first day of competitive play in nearly 16 months.

Among others, defending champion Bubba Watson had a par round, while Olympic champion Justin Rose brought up the rear, a stroke adrift of the comeback man.

It was later announced that Rose, who had been paired to start off proceedings on the second day alongside Woods, had pulled out because of a niggle in his back sustained during play in the opening round.

The scores (after first round): 64: J.B. Holmes (USA); 65: Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn); 66: Dustin Johnson (USA); 67: Henrik Stenson (Swe), Matt Kuchar (USA), Louis Oosthuizen (RSA); 68: Rickie Fowler (USA), Jordan Spieth (USA); 69: Russell Knox (Sco); 70: Jimmy Walker (USA), Emiliano Grillo (Arg); 72: Bubba Watson (USA), Brandt Snedeker (US), Zach Johnson (USA), Patrick Reed (USA), Brooks Koepka (USA); 73: Tiger Woods (USA); 74: Justin Rose (Eng).

(V.V. Ramanan is in Bahamas at the invitation of Hero MotoCorp)