WINDERMERE, Florida (AP) ― Tiger Woods took on any shot without pain or worry Thursday, a feeling he hasn’t had on the golf course in a long time.
As for his short game?
He hadn’t seen anything like it in longer than he can remember, and it was shocking.
Woods flubbed four chips. He took two shots to get out of a bunker on the par-5 seventh hole.
He didn’t have a birdie putt inside 20 feet until the 11th hole. And on the four birdie chances he had inside 10 feet on the back nine, he made only one of them. And that was a tap-in.
Tiger Woods checks out the course from the third tee on Thursday. (AP-Yonhap)
In his first competition in nearly four months, Woods wound up with a 5-over 77 at Isleworth, his home course for his first 16 years as a pro. That put him in last place in the 18-man field, 11 shots behind Jordan Spieth, who is coming off a runaway victory last week in the Australian Open.
“One of those days where nothing went my way,” Woods said.
The score was not nearly as significant as his health in what has been a lost year for Woods because of back problems. He had surgery a week before the Masters that kept him out for three months. He had not played since Aug. 9 at the PGA Championship because of lingering back issues, and the need to build up his muscle structure.
Woods missed the cut at Congressional in June in his first tournament after back surgery. This time, he is coming back from injury and he is working with a new coach. In that respect, the score was not a surprise.
It was the 10th time in 12 rounds that he failed to break par since his first return in June.
Even so, some of the shots were shocking, especially around the green.
On the par-5 17th, he hit his second shot just left of the green, pin-high in a deep collection area. Woods no sooner hit his chip that he angrily swung back-handed toward his divot, knowing what was coming next. The ball didn’t come close to reaching the green, and Woods turned his back as the ball rolled back toward his feet.
He compensated on the next shot and sent it well past the hole, and he had to make a 10-footer just to escape with par. The other two holes where he muffed chips cost him a double bogey at No. 8 and a bogey at the par-5 13th. Two shots out of the bunker on the par-5 seventh led to bogey.
“It is surprising that I could hit chips that poorly,” he said.
The 77 was his second-highest score of the year. He had a 79 on the South Course at Torrey Pines in January. What kept the day from being a total loss is that Woods reported feeling “zero pain.”
“I haven’t said that in a long time,” Woods said. “It’s very exciting to step up there and hit the drives I hit ― especially on the back nine ― and start launching it and feel nothing.”
The opening drive set the tone for the day ― and his return. Woods was about to hit his first shot in nearly four months when he heard a loud click of a camera and backed off. Then, he tugged his 3-wood through the fairway, beyond an iron fence into someone’s backyard and presumably into a swimming pool. He had to hit another from the tee and did well to escape with a bogey.
Rust would seem to be an issue, but it certainly wasn’t the case for Steve Stricker. He hasn’t played since the PGA Championship, either, yet Stricker made five birdies in a bogey-free round of 67 and was one shot behind Spieth, along with Dubai World Tour Championship winner Henrik Stenson, Zach Johnson and Rickie Fowler.
Woods played with Jason Day, who last competed at the Tour Championship three months ago. Day shot a 71. FedEx Cup champion Billy Horschel and Patrick Reed, both at 73, were the only other players over par on a warm, breezy afternoon.
Fisher takes 2-shot lead at Nedbank Challenge
SUN CITY, South Africa (AP) ― Ross Fisher opened the 2015 European Tour season with a 6-under 66 to lead the Nedbank Golf Challenge after Thursday’s first round.
Fisher last won on the tour in South Africa in March and the Englishman felt right at home at a sweltering Sun City with four birdies on the front nine and three on the back. His only slip came with a bogey on No. 16.
“To go around here (with) one bogey and seven birdies, 6 under, I’ll definitely take that and run,” Fisher said.
He’s two shots clear of a three-way tie for second between South African George Coetzee, Germany’s Marcel Siem and Frenchman Alexander Levy.
Siem had the shot of the day when he holed out with an 8-iron from the fairway for an eagle on the par-4 No. 17, his ball taking a lucky kick off the right edge of the green to head back across the surface and into the cup to win him a new car.
Siem said he’d give the red Volvo to his mother.
“I wanted to buy a car for my mom after the good season I had this year and she needs a new car,” he said.
Defending champion Thomas Bjorn was last after the opening round of the new Order of Merit schedule following an error-strewn 80. U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, a former winner at Sun City in 2012, started with a 74 for a tie for 22nd. The German had four birdies, but also four bogeys and a double bogey.
Along with Kaymer, there are two other former No. 1s playing the 30-man invitational tournament in the wilderness of northern South Africa this week. Two-time champion Lee Westwood was subdued on one of his favorite courses for an even-par 72. Luke Donald went around in 71. Brooks Koepka of the United States made a flying start on his Sun City debut with birdies on two of his first three holes. The European Tour’s 2014 rookie of the year found it a little tougher later in his round at Gary Player Country Club, and had a costly double bogey on No. 15 to end with a 70.