Tiger Woods dug deep to card his first sub-par tournament start since 2015 on Thursday, fighting through blustery conditions to shoot a one-under-par 70 in the opening round of the Valspar Championship.
The latest leg of the 14-time major winner’s comeback was a roller coaster affair on the challenging par-71 Copperhead Course at the Innisbrook Resort northwest of Tampa, Florida.
The 42-year-old former world number one shot five birdies, four bogeys and nine pars to finish the day with a cluster of players who were three back from early leader Corey Conners, who posted a four-under-par 67.
Woods said afterward he was satisfied with how his game had held up in conditions he described as “brutal.”
“Today was a very good test of all the things that I’m trying to implement,” Woods said. “The winds out there were howling and swirling but I felt like I really controlled the ball well for most of the day.
“I’m still working on it. I’m getting a little better, piece by piece.”
Woods got off to a dream start on the 560-yard par-five first hole, reaching the green in three to set up a tap-in for an easy birdie.
After missing two long birdie puts on the third and fourth holes for back-to-back pars, Woods dropped a shot on the par-three fourth after over-hitting off the tee.
After making his third par of the day on the 605-yard par-five fifth, Woods had another birdie chance on the sixth but his 23-foot putt came up just short.
An easier chance was missed on the seventh, when he fluffed a six-foot putt.
He made no mistake though on the par-three eighth, when a six-iron off the tee left him a 13-foot birdie putt which he duly rolled in to move to one under.
But just when it looked as if Woods was building some momentum, he was pegged back with his second bogey of the day on the short par-four ninth.
Woods’ solid short game began to reap dividends though after the turn, when he moved to two under with a pair of birdies.
Yet Woods’ inconsistent putting haunted him once more on the 12th, when a five-foot par putt lipped out to see him record his third bogey of the day.
Woods was in trouble again on the par-three 13th when he landed in the rough off the tee and then failed to get up and down to slip back to even.
After pars on the 14th and 15th, Woods needed an incredible recovery on the 16th — blasting out from a cluster of trees to near the front of the green — to set up another save.
A magnificent five iron tee shot on the 17th to within a few feet gave him his fifth birdie of the day before he closed the round with a par.