By Julie Glass
A new, surgically modified version of Tiger Woods, armed with new equipment and downsized expectations, launched his latest comeback on the PGA Tour yesterday by shooting an even-par 72 on the South Course at Torrey Pines during the opening round of the Farmers Insurance Open.
A seven-time winner of the event, Woods finished the round tied for 84th, seven shots behind the early leader Tony Finau (who shot a 65 on the North Course). Woods will most likely have to shoot under par on the North Course in the second round today to make the 36-hole cut.
Huge galleries lined the fairways and surrounded every tee and green as he made his way around the course. The scene was reminiscent of his 2008 United States Open triumph, as was his opening tee shot on No. 1 — a pulled drive into the deep rough on the left side, on the way to a greenside bunker and a two-putt bogey. He won the 2008 Open, his most recent major title, despite making three double-bogeys on the opening hole.
Though admittedly “a little bit rusty,” Woods was smiling after the first round on Thursday and said he was encouraged by his performance at his first PGA Tour event since last year’s Farmers, where he missed the cut after the longest layoff of his career. A week later, he had to withdraw from a European Tour event in Dubai because of back spasms, leading to spinal fusion surgery in April and another season-ending layoff.
That was then. One year later, a slimmed-down Woods insisted it was “the best I’ve felt in years.” An operation that fused two vertebrae in his lower back — the fourth surgical procedure on his back since 2014 — has eliminated all of his pain, he says, enabling him to practice and play without limitations.
Woods, 42, says he also has a new mind-set as he attempts to get his record-breaking career (79 PGA Tour wins, including 14 majors) back on track. Known for declaring his only goal is to win in every event he enters, he now concedes his expectations have been “tempered a little bit” because he hasn’t played a full schedule in several years.