DUBLIN, Ohio — Enjoying his first gap on the PGA Tour in 151 days, Tiger Woods on Thursday smashed a driver 327 yards off the tee, hit his method shot from 145 yards to inside 10 ft after which sank a curling, downhill birdie putt.
He walked off the inexperienced with a bemused expression that appeared to say: What? That is alleged to be arduous?
Two holes later, he was at it once more, knocking a wedge shot from 107 yards that landed on a devilishly contoured inexperienced and stopped 13 inches from the opening for one more birdie. Woods’s comeback after a five-month layoff due to the coronavirus pandemic was about 45 minutes outdated and he was two underneath par.
The remainder of the day was not fairly a romp to the highest of the leaderboard on the Memorial Event, the place Woods is a five-time champion. However by any measure it was nonetheless a hit, particularly since Woods appeared match and his swing relaxed and fluid. He completed the day on the Muirfield Village Golf Membership with a one-under-par 71, ok to tie him for 18th, 5 strokes behind the first-round chief Tony Finau.
“It’s been some time,” Woods stated with a smile afterward. “I felt the identical eagerness, edginess, nervy-ness. And it was good. I used to be slightly bit rusty, however total it was begin.”
It was additionally Woods’s first spherical within the fan-free setting the PGA Tour has applied because it resumed play on June 11 after a 90-day suspension.
At instances, he appeared nearly preoccupied by the paucity of distractions in elite golf’s new setting. Enjoying within the noiselessness of a Hollywood sound studio, the place a cacophony of chirping birds would drown out the sound of crisply struck iron photographs, Woods often searched the empty hillsides subsequent to fairways as if eager for the galleries he usually attracts.
When 9 folks jammed onto the again porch of a house subsequent to the eighth fairway rowdily referred to as out to him, he paused his stride lengthy sufficient to wave along with his left hand overhead and smile. Sometimes, he made eye contact with the roughly two dozen tour officers, volunteers and media that adopted him, which was extremely uncommon — however by no means as knowledgeable had such a small gaggle of individuals accompanied him on a spherical.
“It’s a unique really feel,” Woods conceded. “However a brand new actuality.”
Nonetheless, famend for his steely willpower, Woods insisted he by no means misplaced his elementary focus.
“I didn’t have any points with vitality or not having followers’ reactions on the market,” he stated, including that he even loved the much less chaotic walks between holes because the lack of spectators meant golfers might take probably the most direct routes from greens to tees.
“Normally, I’m meandering roundabout,” he stated with amusing.
Woods had 4 birdies and three bogeys Thursday, becoming for a day that had an uneven character all through. He striped drives into the center of the green however flubbed chips and squandered a number of makable birdie alternatives that had been typically arrange by spectacular iron play. However Woods’s return to the tour was extra about assessing his health degree and the general well being of his sport than assigning a rating for consistency.
By that measure, Woods’s 18 holes must be completely encouraging to his legion of followers. His swing was compact, unhurried and highly effective. He loped across the steep and undulating terrain with none of the ungainly, awkward strides so evident throughout his last tournament in mid-February when he completed final among the many golfers who made the lower and later blamed stiffness in his surgically reconstructed again. Woods’s iron play sparkled, and he ranked eighth in Thursday’s subject in photographs gained from method photographs to the inexperienced.
The overwhelming majority of Woods’s setbacks had been on or close to the greens. After his two birdies on the primary three holes, Woods didn’t have one other birdie till the par-5 15th gap when he almost holed his third shot from 109 yards away however as an alternative left it 4 inches from the cup. However on the subsequent gap, a par-3, Woods bladed a sand wedge from a greenside bunker that soared over the inexperienced and he scrambled to make bogey. He missed a 22-foot putt for birdie on the 17th gap after a wonderful restoration from a fairway bunker then stroked a deft method shot to the 18th gap and sank a twisting 14-foot birdie to shut his spherical.
Ascending the knoll that surrounds the ultimate inexperienced with a broad smile, Woods appeared glad to be again. He was requested if he anticipated any problem enjoying and strolling 18 holes for a second consecutive day.
“No,” Woods stated emphatically, and with haste. “I’ve gotten prepared for this.”
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