SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - Tiger Woods made an encouraging start to the season at one of his favorite venues without playing at his very best, firing a three-under-par 69 in the Farmers Insurance Open first round Thursday.
With the first winless campaign of his professional career now behind him, Woods recorded three birdies and no bogeys on a firm, fast-running North Course featuring some of the tightest fairways on the PGA Tour.
The biggest concern for the former world number one was his failure to birdie any of the four par-fives and he ended a sun-splashed day on the Southern California coastline five strokes off the lead.
“I’m happy with the way I played, absolutely,” Woods, a six-times winner of the PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines, told reporters. “It could have been a lot better if I took care of the par-fives a little bit more, but I didn’t do that.
“Hopefully on the South Course tomorrow I can take care of the par-fives and put together a little bit better round.”
The North and South layouts co-host the tournament for the first two rounds before the action shifts solely to the South for the weekend.
“I just didn’t drive the ball well on the par-fives,” said Woods, who began his round on the back nine. “I hit two good drives and unfortunately they’d land on the fairway but didn’t stay on the fairway, so I had no shot (from the rough).
“(On) the other two (par-fives), I hit terrible tee shots and put myself in bad spots.”
Woods hit only five of 14 fairways but reached 15 of 18 greens in regulation. He totaled 27 putts on the slick greens but was frustrated that he kept leaving himself birdie attempts from above the hole.
“You can’t make these putts above the hole on the North Course,” he said. “I knew that from years past and this year’s no different. They just move too much, and most of the putts I had today were breaking.”
Back at Torrey Pines for the first time since his stunning playoff win at the 2008 U.S. Open, Woods teed off on the back nine and made his first birdie at the par-three 12th where he struck his tee shot to four feet.
With hardly a breath of wind to bother the golfers, it seemed likely Woods would pick up at least two more shots before the turn but wayward drives at the par-five 14th and 18th cost him birdie chances.
Watched by a surprisingly small gallery numbering around 200, Woods birdied the second and then got to three under after sinking a 25-footer at the par-three sixth, where he sank to his knees in relief.
He lipped out with a birdie attempt from 10 feet at the par-four seventh and failed to birdie the par-five ninth after driving into a fairway bunker.
Woods, engulfed by a sex scandal at the end of 2009, spent much of last year unsuccessfully trying to repair his marriage and also undergoing the fourth swing change of his career.
He ended the 2010 PGA Tour season without winning for the first time since he turned professional in 1996 and was deposed as world number one by Britain’s Lee Westwood on November 1.
However, since Woods joined forces with Canadian swing coach Sean Foley last August, his form has steadily improved.
“It feels good,” he said of his swing. “Obviously we need more work, but it’s progressing, which is good. It’s an evolution.”
Editing by Steve Ginsburg/Greg Stutchbury