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Story highlights

  • Tiger Woods makes competitive golf return
  • American hits even-par round of 72
  • Compatriot Tony Finau leads after first round

At long last, as the packed crowds at Torrey Pines proved, the 14-time major winner was back in action.

Woods might not have troubled the leaders at the Farmer’s Insurance Open — he sits seven shots behind fellow American Tony Finau after Thursday’s first round — but the 42-year-old did offer glimpses of his old self.

“I still feel the same excitement, the same nerves,” said Woods, a seven-time winner of the Californian event. “I was probably a little rusty, but it was fun to compete again.”

Woods secured a ninth-place finish at the 18-man Hero World Challenge charity event in December 2017, but this was his first competitive appearance on the PGA Tour for 12 months.

Let down by some stray tee shots, the American hit just eight of 14 fairways, and 12 of 18 greens in regulation.

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Still, as Woods himself acknowledged, this was always likely to be a case of “tempered” expectations.

“I didn’t hit anything close, didn’t give myself a lot of looks and consequently didn’t have a lot of chances for birdies,” he reflected afterward, tied for 83rd place on the leaderboard.

“I didn’t play the par-fives as well, either. I need to clean up my iron game and give myself a lot more looks at it.”

There was, however, one spectacular moment when Woods came within inches of a hole-in-one on the par-three 16th.

The more optimistic fans might for a moment have been reminded of Woods’ heroic 2008 US Open triumph here, where he defied a broken leg, ailing knee and lack of practice to win a sudden-death playoff against compatriot Rocco Mediate.

That was the last of his 14 major victories, but after four back operations since 2014 it was good to see Woods pain-free and with a smile on his face again.

“I thought it was incredible,” said Woods, praising the crowds that had turned out to watch him, just a short drive from where he was born and raised in Orange Country.

“They were into it; they were supportive,” he added. “It was nice to come back to Southern California again. I miss it out here. I miss playing this golf course. It always feels good to come out here and play Torrey Pines.”

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For five-time PGA Tour winner Patrick Reed, Woods’ latest comeback offered reason to be optimistic.

“On the back nine, he looked solid and steady,” Reed said.

“I took off six weeks off from competitive golf and played last week and felt like I didn’t know what the heck I was doing out there. There’s a lot of mental errors that happen.

“For a guy who played one tournament in a year to come out and play the way he did today, I was impressed.”

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