LOS ANGELES (AP) — Three holes into his return to Riviera after a 12-year absence, Tiger Woods was 2-over par and bracing for the worst.
It turned out to be another step forward.
Woods overcame a drive that apparently never came down from a eucalyptus tree, another tee shot that wound up on another hole and few careless mistakes with the irons to post a 1-over 72 in the opening round Thursday at the Genesis Open.
Riviera was at its best under full sunshine and greens that felt firm under the feet even in the morning. No one shot better than 67 from the early side of the draw.
“I hung in there well and grinded,” Woods said.
He had little choice. Starting on the reachable par-4 10th, where one mistake can lead to big numbers, Woods played it perfectly with an iron to the far left of the fairway for the best angle into the green, a wedge to just under 10 feet and a birdie.
His drive on the par-5 11th sailed to the right toward the trees. About 10 minutes later, a golf cart drove up to the tee with Woods in the passenger seat. He never found his ball, presumably swallowed up by the tree. There were questions that someone would have picked it up, but not enough evidence to suggest it was anything but lost.
He made double bogey.
Then, he lost his tee shot to the right, hit out of a greenside bunker past the flag and onto the fringe, and had to work for bogey.
“I was 1 under early — first hole — and all of a sudden I went double bogey-bogey,” Woods said. “I was like, ‘Oh, man, here we go. I’ve got to somehow turn this thing around.’ And I was able to do that. Fought hard to try and keep that momentum going.”
Woods wasn’t overly perturbed by the lost ball at No. 11 and can’t remember the last time it happened, suggesting Olympic Club when he was at Stanford.
He answered with a perfect tee shot on the 13th and a 15-foot birdie putt, and he kept his round together with a series of putts from the 6-foot range for pars and birdies — a par save from the bunker on the 16th, a slippery birdie putt on the par-5 17th, a par save from above the hole left of the 18th green and a difficult two-putt birdie on the par-5 first hole from 50 feet that he rapped as though it were a 5-footer.
He made more than he missed.
“No one’s going low out there,” Woods said. “It’s too hard. The greens are starting to get a little bouncy, and those short ones are not easy.”
His lament was two mistakes from the fairway — a wedge into No. 3 that went too long and over the green, taking away a good birdie chance; and pulling his approach on the seventh hole that went into a deep swale. Woods used his putter to get it up the hill, some 15 feet by the pin, and he missed the par putt.
He finished strong, however, with an aggressive approach to a back right pin at No. 8 — anything long is a certain bogey — for a 3-foot birdie, and then an entertaining end to his round. He lost another tee shot so far right that it went into a bunker on the 10th hole. That bunker might be the toughest spot at Riviera, unless someone is playing the ninth hole. Woods hit a 9-iron just threw the green to set up a two-putt par.
He last played Riviera in 2006 when he withdrew after making the cut because of the flu. This is his ninth time playing Riviera as a pro, the most of any PGA Tour course where he has never won.
Being gone for so long meant big crowds for his return.
“Just like the old days,” caddie John McLaren said as he walked toward the 14th tee and looked over at fans who stood six-deep watching Woods at No. 8. Geoff Ogilvy was coming down from the clubhouse toward the range after his round of 72 when a marshal told him to clear the area. Ogilvy showed the marshal his badge.
“It doesn’t matter. Tiger is coming,” the marshal replied.
Thomas (69) and Rory McIlroy (71) played with Woods, neither a stranger to big crowds, but rarely virtually ignored.
“Everyone’s out here to see Tiger, but I’m definitely the third player in the group,” Thomas said. “So I had a couple times where I had a short putt, people are walking off, but that’s a part of it. But the coolest part is the same thing — there’s so many people and it’s a Thursday morning playing with two really good friends and people that I look up to and people that I’ve tried to model my game after for so long. It’s pretty cool to be grinding out here with them.”