Back at one of his favourite venues, the former world number one thrilled the huge galleries watching his every move as he got to six under with a storming seven-under run from the fifth to the 13th before ending the day three strokes off the pace.
Significantly, Woods had started out on the more difficult South Course and he will aim to make much greater in-roads when he tackles the more vulnerable North layout in Friday's second round.
"I am (happy)," the 14-times Major winner said after a round that included six birdies, an eagle at the sixth, two bogeys and a double-bogey at the fourth left him three shots behind fellow American Brandt Snedeker and South Korean KJ Choi.
"I had it to six (under), and I had a beautiful putt at (hole) 14 to get it to seven," he said of a 16-foot birdie putt which slid past the cup.
"After being one under and then one over, to battle back and get to six at one point was a good job."
Asked what score he had in mind for his second round on Friday on the easier North layout, he replied: "It depends on the weather. If it blows, it's supposed to blow and rain, but it didn't materialize today, so we'll see what happens tomorrow."
Woods made a fast start on a damp and overcast morning, sinking a 25-foot birdie putt at the par-four first that prompted one fan to yell out: "Yeah baby."
As the world number two made his way toward the second tee, another spectator shouted out: "You own this place Tiger."
Though Woods stumbled with a three-putt double-bogey at the fourth, where he missed the green well to the right with his approach, he picked up the tempo in grand style over the next four holes.
He sank a 12-footer for birdie at the fifth, spectacularly holed out from a greenside bunker to eagle the sixth and rolled in a 14-footer for birdie at the eighth to get to three under overall.
Out in four-under 32, Woods also birdied the 12th and 13th but then stumbled with bogeys at the 15th, where his tee shot ended up behind a tree, and the 17th, after missing the fairway off the tee.
"I made a few mistakes out there, but I made some nice plays as well," said Woods, who missed the cut in bizarre circumstances at last week's Abu Dhabi Championship. "We couldn't ask for better conditions to score than we had today."
Woods felt his all-round game was similar to last week when he made his first start of the year in the European Tour event but failed to advance to the weekend after being slapped with a two-shot penalty for a rules infringement in the second round.
"Last week's conditions were a lot more difficult and the fairways were narrow and the wind was howling," said Woods, who clinched his most recent Major title with a remarkable playoff win in the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines.
"I felt like I was doing a lot of good things right last week. Unfortunately, only for a few days, but I was doing a lot of good things right. And I came out here today and basically did the same thing."
- Sports & Recreation