SAN DIEGO—Tiger Woods has been away from the PGA Tour too long to know for certain when a shot is as good as it looks.
This was a six-iron on the par-three 16th hole on the South Course at Torrey Pines, from 188 yards to a slightly elevated green with a pin tucked behind a deep bunker.
The sun was setting behind the Pacific late yesteray afternoon, and the glare made it tough to follow the flight of the ball.
“We can't see anything land from back there so we're just listening for some noise,” Woods noted.
“And people started cheering.”
The ball rolled to the hole and broke a few inches in front of the cup for a tap-in birdie.
Woods brought big crowds back to golf in his latest return to the PGA Tour—and he even produced a few big roars.
There just weren't enough cheers for his liking.
Playing for the first time since recovering from a fourth back surgery that cost him another year on the PGA Tour, Woods was mostly steady, sometimes spectacular, and ended his day with an even-par 72 that left him seven shots behind Tony Finau.
“It was fun to compete again," Woods said. "It was fun to be out there.”
The next trick is to stay at Torrey Pines beyond today. With virtually no wind making this a day for reasonable scoring, Woods was tied for 84th and will start the second round on the North Course just outside the cut line.
Finau birdied his opening two holes on the North and finished with a 35-foot birdie putt for a 65 yesterday.
Woods had a few big moments that looked familiar to fans who stood as many as four-deep around the greens.
His three birdie putts were from a combined 30 inches. The longest of his birdie putt was from just inside two feet on No. 10 that got him back to even par for the round.
He was one rotation away from making a long eagle putt on the par-five sixth.
He was never under par the entire round, and his near ace on the 16th brought him back to even par.
But he needed those three birdies to offset his mistakes, and the sobering part of his return is that Woods didn't make a putt longer than four feet.
He played the par-fives in even par, and didn't give himself any other birdie chances inside 15 feet.
“It's hard to make a lot of birdies when you're not giving yourself any looks, and I didn't do that today,” Woods reasoned.
"Tomorrow [Friday], hopefully, I'll drive a little better, get my irons obviously a lot closer, and we get the better of the two greens tomorrow.
“So we'll see what happens.”
Finau birdied his opening two holes to set the tone for his round, and he wound up with nine birdies—the last one from 35 feet to take the lead.
“It played a lot tougher than it did in the past,” Finau said of the North course.
“I think it's just a credit to my start," he noted. "From there I was just able to let the golf course come to me.”
He had a one-shot lead over Ryan Palmer and Ted Potter Jr., who each had a 66 on the South yesterday.
Ben Silverman of Thornhill, Ont. was the low Canadian after a three-under 69 while Adam Hadwin (71) of Abbotsford, B.C. was 1 under.
Defending champ Jon Rahm, who can reach No. 1 in the world by winning, opened with a 68 yesterday on the South.
He hit into the water with his second shot on the par-five 18th but saved par with a 15-foot putt.