Tiger Woods salvages first round of Phoenix Open

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — From the moment Tiger Woods’ season began at the Waste Management Phoenix Open on Thursday, he looked like his old, ultra-competitive self.

As far as the style of his golf game, it’s going to take more time.

Driving off the first tee just after noon, Woods found dirt instead of fairway. A few under-his-breath words wouldn’t be the end of his battles with his refurbished swing. Maybe his intensity contributed to a tight start, but nonetheless, Woods finished the first round with a 2-over 73 playing under cloudy skies at TPC Scottsdale.

"(Caddie) Joey (LaCava) was on me all day today, he says, ‘Don’t worry about getting your numbers perfect,’" Woods said. "It takes time. It’s just a frustrating thing where I need to get through competitive rounds, I need to get rounds out from under my belt and get a feel for it."

Woods said earlier in the week his driving speed was like it was 15 years ago, and his driving distance average of 319 yards might back that up to some degree. But accuracy was an issue.

"I like how far I’m hitting it now," he said. "I’ve just got to get committed to hitting the club less sometimes. That’s the hard part. I bail out on a couple of shots, I just don’t believe I have that much speed on my body yet — but I do."

Woods bogeyed his first two holes, made par on the third and double-bogeyed the fourth. Woods was 5 over after his 11th hole, failing to reach the green in regulation five times. During that rough start, he had seven drives land on things other than fairway — desert dirt thrice, bunker rake once and nearly a fan, who turned himself into a four-legged tent over the ball.

Whatever the results were, the crowd at the Phoenix Open didn’t seem to care that Woods might be rusty in his first event since December. The 118,461 who showed up for the first round smashed the previous event attendance record of 88,113.

If the crowds didn’t give Tiger Woods’ location away, his hot pink polo did.

"I hit a shot in on my last hole to about 10 feet, and it was a pretty good shot, and I didn’t get many claps," said Keegan Bradley, who finished 6-under. "I said to (caddie Steve Hale), ‘Is it way long or way short? Why aren’t they clapping?’ We get up there, perfect shot, and Tiger was on the second green. No one was watching me. It’s just amazing to see the draw that Tiger has."

Woods would eventually settle in.

On the 13th hole, he used a 329-yard drive and 226-yard approach to reach the green and make eagle on the 558-yard par 5. Woods made his return to the rowdy 16th hole he aced in 1997 and last played in 2001, but he only drew par on it. He followed with a 340-yard blast on the par-4, 17th to put the ball within 20 feet of the hole, setting up a birdie.

"I didn’t get into the mental rhythm of the round for a while," Woods said. "But then I started finding the rhythm of the round, the rhythm of competing and playing, chipping shots and hitting them to the safety zones or being aggressive, taking on certain shots, getting a feel for that. It takes time.

"Mentally, I’m a little bit tired from the grind of trying to piece together a round," he added. "I was 5-over par and I fought back to get myself a decent look going into the weekend. I’m proud of that."

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