Tiger Woods Is at Ease and in Contention After Layoff

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DUBLIN, Ohio — Playing his first gap on the PGA Tour in 151 days, Tiger Woods on Thursday smashed a driver 327 yards off the tee, hit his approach shot from 145 yards to inside 10 ft after which sank a curling, downhill birdie putt.He walked off the inexperienced with a bemused expression that appeared to say: What? This is meant to be onerous?Two holes later, he was at it once more, knocking a wedge shot from 107 yards that landed on a devilishly contoured inexperienced and stopped 13 inches from the opening for one more birdie. Woods’s comeback after a five-month layoff due to the coronavirus pandemic was about 45 minutes outdated and he was two underneath par.The remainder of the day was not fairly a romp to the highest of the leaderboard on the Memorial Tournament, the place Woods is a five-time champion. But by any measure it was nonetheless successful, particularly since Woods seemed match and his swing relaxed and fluid. He completed the day on the Muirfield Village Golf Club with a one-under-par 71, ok to tie him for 18th, 5 strokes behind the first-round chief Tony Finau.“It’s been a while,” Woods mentioned with a smile afterward. “I felt the same eagerness, edginess, nervy-ness. And it was good. I was a little bit rusty, but overall it was a good start.”It was additionally Woods’s first spherical within the fan-free surroundings the PGA Tour has applied because it resumed play on June 11 after a 90-day suspension.At occasions, he appeared almost preoccupied by the paucity of distractions in elite golf’s new setting. Playing within the noiselessness of a Hollywood sound studio, the place a cacophony of chirping birds would drown out the sound of crisply struck iron photographs, Woods steadily searched the empty hillsides subsequent to fairways as if eager for the galleries he usually attracts.ImageFans are technically not allowed at this weekend’s Memorial Tournament, however spectators managed to sneak a glimpse of his opening spherical.Credit…Maddie McGarvey for The New York TimesWhen 9 folks jammed onto the again porch of a home subsequent to the eighth fairway rowdily referred to as out to him, he paused his stride lengthy sufficient to wave together with his left hand overhead and smile. Occasionally, he made eye contact with the roughly two dozen tour officers, volunteers and media that adopted him, which was extremely uncommon — however by no means as an expert had such a small gaggle of individuals accompanied him on a spherical.“It’s a different feel,” Woods conceded. “But a new reality.”Still, famend for his steely dedication, Woods insisted he by no means misplaced his basic focus.“I didn’t have any issues with energy or not having fans’ reactions out there,” he mentioned, including that he even loved the much less chaotic walks between holes for the reason that lack of spectators meant golfers might take probably the most direct routes from greens to tees.“Usually, I’m meandering roundabout,” he mentioned with amusing.Woods had 4 birdies and three bogeys Thursday, becoming for a day that had an uneven character all through. He striped drives into the center of the golf green however flubbed chips and squandered a number of makable birdie alternatives that had been typically arrange by spectacular iron play. But Woods’s return to the tour was extra about assessing his health stage and the general well being of his recreation than assigning a rating for consistency.By that measure, Woods’s 18 holes must be solely encouraging to his legion of followers. His swing was compact, unhurried and highly effective. He loped across the steep and undulating terrain with none of the ungainly, awkward strides so evident throughout his final match in mid-February when he completed final among the many golfers who made the lower and later blamed stiffness in his surgically reconstructed again. Woods’s iron play sparkled, and he ranked eighth in Thursday’s subject in photographs gained from approach photographs to the inexperienced.The overwhelming majority of Woods’s setbacks had been on or near the greens. After his two birdies on the primary three holes, Woods didn’t have one other birdie till the par-5 15th gap when he nearly holed his third shot from 109 yards away however as an alternative left it 4 inches from the cup. But on the subsequent gap, a par-3, Woods bladed a sand wedge from a greenside bunker that soared over the inexperienced and he scrambled to make bogey. He missed a 22-foot putt for birdie on the 17th gap after a wonderful restoration from a fairway bunker then stroked a deft approach shot to the 18th gap and sank a twisting 14-foot birdie to shut his spherical.Ascending the knoll that surrounds the ultimate inexperienced with a broad smile, Woods seemed completely satisfied to be again. He was requested if he anticipated any problem taking part in and strolling 18 holes for a second consecutive day.“No,” Woods mentioned emphatically, and with haste. “I’ve gotten ready for this.”

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