News & Opinion

Par debut gives Woods reason to smile

It will be the most scrutinized round of golf of the year, but it’s a good bet that Tiger Woods doesn’t care what everyone thinks of his first-round 72 on Thursday in the Farmers Insurance Open.

At the end, he was smiling. And that’s all you really need to know. It was his first competitive round on the PGA Tour since last year at this time, and he wasn’t great, but he wasn’t bad. That even-par total came on the South Course at Torrey Pines, clearly more difficult than the North, where Woods will play today. After the 36-hole cut, the final two rounds will be played on the South Course (scores: http://bit.ly/2wE1lpy).

Woods, 42, has won eight times as a professional at Torrey Pines South, including the 2008 U.S. Open, his last major championship. He won that Open on a broken left leg and with a blown ACL in his left knee. Since then, he has had four back surgeries, the last one coming in April. Two of his vertebrae were fused during the surgery. After a lengthy rehab, Woods has declared himself pain-free. And that’s his bottom line.

“I just wanted to not feel as bad as I had felt for such a long time,” Woods told the media on Wednesday. “We started with just – I just want to have a lifestyle in which I can actually participate in my kids’ life and be around them and do things. Golf was not on the top of that list. 

“But now that I’m able to start doing that, it feels good. It feels good to go out there and practice. It feels good not to have a burning sensation going down my leg into my foot or collapse when I’m walking, things of that nature. It’s been so bad for so long. But turning it around and having my back fused, I haven’t felt this good in years, so I’m excited about it.”

Woods was paired with Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman on Thursday, and he didn’t beat either of them. Reed shot a 4-under 68, and Hoffman posted 71. None of that mattered to Woods.

“It was fun to compete again,” he said after the round. “Fun to be out there again. I was probably a little bit rusty.”

Coming into this week, Woods has been playing and practicing just about as much as he wants. But nothing can replace the nerves and the adrenaline of teeing it up in competition when it counts.

He started the round with a pulled tee shot and a bogey on the first hole, which had been his nemesis in recent years. He made three double bogeys on the first hole in the 2008 Open.

For the day, he made three birdies and three bogeys, the birdies coming with a two-putt at the par-5 sixth, a pitching wedge to 2 feet at the par-4 10th and a near ace with a 6-iron on the par-3 16th that finished 8 inches from the hole, which got the biggest roar of the day. 

Otherwise, it was a bunch of routine-looking pars. “I have to hit my irons better than I did today,” Woods said. “I didn’t hit them very close and didn’t give myself very many looks [at birdies].”

He looked relaxed and like a man who was happy to be on the golf course inside the ropes in front of thousands of people. He’s still Tiger the Great even if he didn’t post a great score. 

“I haven’t played a full schedule since 2015,” he said Wednesday. “It’s been a long time. To be honest with you, I just want to start playing on the Tour and getting into a rhythm of playing a schedule again. I haven’t done that in such a long time, so I don’t know what to expect. Just go out there and just play. I’m going to grind it, give it everything I possibly have if I put the ball in the right position and make some putts and try to work my way up the board.”

There won’t be a full accounting of Woods’ week until he actually finishes it. He will need to shoot something under par today at the North Course to assure that he makes it to the weekend.

But it’s a start. And that’s all Woods is asking.

Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: golfedit@gmail.com; Twitter: @mikepurkeygolf