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  • Associated Press photos
    Tiger Woods watches his tee shot on the third hole during Thursday’s first round of the Hero World Challenge in Nassau, Bahamas.

  • Woods putts on the first hole as he made his return to golf after 15 months away. He started with three straight birdies, but faded to settle for a 1-over 73.
December 02, 2016 1:01 AM

Golf

Woods shows glint of old self in return

DOUG FERGUSON | Associated Press

NASSAU, Bahamas – Not only did Tiger Woods return to golf Thursday, he returned to being Tiger.

Just not for long.

Hardly looking like a player who had not competed in 466 days, Woods ran off three straight birdies with a variety of shots and was tied for the lead in the Hero World Challenge as he approached the turn.

Three shots in the bushes, one shot in the water and a few fits of anger sent him toward the bottom of the pack. A pair of double bogeys over the final three holes ruined an otherwise impressive return, and Woods shot 40 on the back nine at Albany Golf Club and had to settle for a 1-over 73.

He was in 17th place in the 18-man field. Only Justin Rose had a higher score.

Even so, Woods has reason to be encouraged. After taking off 15 months to recover from two back surgeries, he felt no pain or limitations. His misses were not big, just costly. And he was playing again.

“It could have been something really good,” Woods said. “I got off to a nice, solid start and made a few mistakes there. I didn’t play the par 5s very well in the middle part of the round and consequently, got it going the wrong way. ... But all in all, I feel pretty good. I’m looking forward to another three more days.”

He was nine shots behind J.B. Holmes, who opened with an 8-under 64 and had a one-shot lead over Hideki Matsuyama, with U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson at 66.

Curiosity was greater than expectations for Woods, who was coming off the longest hiatus of his golfing life. Plagued by back problems since 2013 when he was No. 1 in the world, he finally shut it down after tying for 10th in the Wyndham Championship on Aug. 23, 2015, and then going through two back surgeries.

He was in so much pain last year there were times he wondered if he had played his last tournament.

With high anticipation, he tugged his opening tee shot into the rough on the left edge of a bunker and gouged that out to 15 feet for par. Just like that, it all started to feel as though he had never been away.

“By the time I hit my tee shot on the second hole, I had already gotten into the flow of the round,” Woods said. “That’s something that for me, when I’ve taken layoffs and taken breaks, it’s how quickly can I find the feel of the round? To not play in 15, 16 months and get it on the second hole is nice.”

He also knew that with only a stiff tropical wind behind him on three of the par 5s, scores would be low.

“Just made some really silly mistakes, mistakes I don’t normally make,” Woods said. “But I haven’t played in a while. Unfortunately, I made those mistakes. I can clean that up. We’ve got three more days. Wind is supposed to pump on the weekend, and I’ll be playing a little bit better.”