Tiger Woods signs for ‘rusty’ 75 on comeback at Hero World Challenge

<span>Photograph: Fernando Llano/AP</span>
Photograph: Fernando Llano/AP

For 14 holes, the latest return of Tiger Woods was flowing along as well as anybody could reasonably expect. Woods was under par at the Hero World Challenge.

What followed – sloppy golf, sloppy decision-making – owed everything to a lack of sharpness that was inevitable for a player who has not competed since limping out of the Masters in April.

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Woods signed for an opening round of 75, three over par, at a venue that is never the most testing on the PGA Tour. The fury in his face said it all as he struggled through the closing stretch.

This is only the eighth event for Woods since he was pulled from the wreckage of a car in February 2021. The good news is the 47-year-old looked physically comfortable in the Bahamas but the scorecard shortcomings will sting. He still wants to challenge for trophies, after all.

“Now I know mentally what I need to do better,” Woods said. “Physically, I knew I was going to be OK. Mentally, I was really rusty and made a lot of errors in the mind that normally I don’t make.

“I wanted to play. I felt like I was ready to compete and play. I hit it solid most of the day. As I said, I just didn’t mentally do the things I normally would do and I need to do. I still hit it solid, but I hit it crooked. I’ve always had a knack of hitting the ball in the middle of the face, but I need to do a better job where I hit it in my windows.”

A drive pulled to the bottom of a bush at the 15th started Woods’s troubles. From there, he was unusually hasty in opting to try to move his ball rather than take a penalty drop. He did so but by barely a foot. His third shot had to be hit backwards. By the time a ragged hole was concluded, the 15-time major champion had taken a double-bogey seven.

At the next hole, Woods found a fairway bunker from the tee and could not save par after missing the green with his second shot. He was then far too fierce with his short par attempt at the 17th, which hit the hole and stayed above ground. Four shots had been shipped in only three holes.

Earlier there had been encouraging signs. Woods routinely hit drives in excess of 300 yards. His chip to set up a birdie at the 14th was a thing of beauty. Converted putts at the 5th and 11th from 20ft and 50ft respectively showed he can still be formidable on the greens.

Woods did admit to feeling “sore” when the dust had settled but explained his preparation and recovery sessions need be no different now to those in recent years.

“I got off to a decent start,” he said. “I didn’t play the par fives particularly well. I had a lack of commitment through most of the middle part of my round and when finishing. I just didn’t quite commit to what I was doing and feeling.

“We’ve got some work to do tonight. Tomorrow, get back in the gym and activate and get ready for it. Hopefully I hit some better shots.”

Woods’s playing partner, Justin Thomas, had been three over after eight but recovered wonderfully to make a 70. Brian Harman and Tony Finau share the early lead at five under, with Jordan Spieth one off the pace. Will Zalatoris, who like Woods is making a return after injury issues, toiled badly en route to an 81.

Meanwhile, speculation continues apace that Jon Rahm is poised to make a dramatic switch to LIV Golf. Neither the Masters champion nor his management have commented on the rising sense that Rahm will switch playing domains in a deal worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Any move for Rahm by the Saudi Arabian-backed entity would add a fresh dimension to peace talks between the kingdom’s Public Investment Fund and golf’s traditional tours.