Tiger Woods impressed a world-class field after a 16-month layoff in Thursday’s opening round of the Hero World Challenge despite double bogeys on two of the last three holes to shoot a one-over par 73.
Tiger Woods, who had not played since August 2015 after back surgery, birdied three holes in a row starting at the par-5 sixth and shared the early lead at four under after eight holes.
But bogeys on the par-5 ninth and 11th and errant tee shots that found sandy brush on 16 and water at 18 dimmed the early excitement Woods built.
“He was playing pretty good today. After that long off and not being able to play in a tournament, to come out, looks like he’s playing pretty good,” said J.B. Holmes, who fired a 64 to grab the first-round lead.
“It’s great to have him back. He has been gone a while and he definitely brings a lot more to our sport. Nice to see him.”
Eighth-ranked Patrick Reed, who shot 72, played alongside Woods and liked what he saw from the 14-time Major champion.
“Unfortunately it wasn’t quite the way we both wanted to play, but it was awesome to get him back out here and play golf with him,” Reed said. “The first eight holes he played really well. I was like, ‘Wow.’ He seemed like he had complete control of what he was trying to do with the golf ball.
“There were just a couple loose swings here and there... He needs to tighten some things up, too, but it’s awesome to have him back. It’s good to see him, for the most part, have pretty good control.”
Woods says more rounds will help eliminate the errors that turned a solid round into a mediocre return.
“I just need to keep playing,” Woods said. “My feels need to keep coming back, seeing the shots, feeling the shots, hitting my numbers and getting all that.
“It felt good to have that adrenaline surging through the system again. It has been a long time. To get up there on that first hole and feel it again and then dumb it down to be able to control it, that was nice.”
‘He’s really close’
What pleased Reed the most was seeing Woods swing like he once did routinely without any twinges of pain, something that had become commonplace in failed comebacks by Woods from earlier knee, leg and back injuries.
“His swing looked good,” Reed said. “When he hit it well, it was really good, and when (Woods) mis-hit it, they weren’t very good misses. But at the end of the day, to take off as much time as he had and come back and be his first competitive round and to have the kind of spurts that he had throughout the round, it was good to see.”
Reed, ranked eighth in the world and 890 spots higher than Woods, said he thinks Woods has the fitness and stamina to handle 72 holes at an elite level.
“I think he’ll be fine. I think he’ll be good to go,” Reed said. “He was able to go at the shots he needed to get some extra horsepower on, so that’s good to see.
“Last time I played with him back at Phoenix, when he got himself in some situations where he had to put a lot of torque on that back, it just looked a little glitchy, didn’t look like he could get through them, and today he could. He could fire through everything.
“It’s close. He’s really close.”
When it comes to Major breakthroughs, JB Holmes and Hideki Matsuyama hope they can follow the path of Jordan Spieth, who used momentum from a 2014 Hero World Challenge title to win two Majors in 2015.
Holmes fired an eight-under 64 to seize a one-stroke lead over Maruyama after Thursday’s first round of the 18-man Bahamas invitational .
Spieth won the 2014 Australian Open, then took the Challenge crown and a 2015 PGA event in Florida, momentum that carried into victories at the 2015 Masters and US Open for his first Major titles.
Matsuyama and Holmes would not mind similar success at the Challenge this week and the momentum carryover in the Majors next year.