Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Tiger Woods returns with 3-over 74 at Congressional

BETHESDA, Md. — Tiger Woods was back on the PGA Tour for the first time in more than three months Thursday and said he felt "great."

He was talking about his back, not his game.

Woods opened with two straight bogeys, made five more bogeys in a seven-hole stretch around the turn at Congressional but found his groove late in the opening round of the Quicken Loans National for 3-over 74.

Woods was tied for 83rd — only 19 players had a higher score — and will have to score better today if he wants to avoid missing the cut for the first time in two years. "I made so many little mistakes," Woods said, "so I played a lot better than the score indicated."

Two weeks after a U.S. Open that had no rough, Congressional made it feel like one. Any shot just off the fairway was buried, making it difficult for players to reach the green on the longer par 4s.

Greg Chalmers finished with three straight birdies for 66 and a one-shot lead over Ricky Barnes and Freddie Jacobson. Defending champion Bill Haas, Patrick Reed, U.S. Open runner-up Erik Compton and Tyrone Van Aswegen shot 68.

Only 26 players in the 120-man field broke par.

This day, however, was all about Woods, golf's biggest draw since he turned pro in 1996. He won the past two times he played Congressional, in 2009 and 2012.

Even with an early start, the gallery lined the entire left side of the 218-yard 10th hole, with hundreds of others watching from the patio and veranda of the famed clubhouse at Congressional.

Two holes into Woods' opening round, they had reason to ask: We waited three months for this?

But it wasn't just Woods. He played with Jason Day and Jordan Spieth, and the trio of top-10 players combined for six bogeys in two holes.

Day had 73, and Spieth shot 74.

Woods looked about the same as he has all year. He gave away shots with his short game, with some ordinary chips and not making as many putts as he once did.

"We were all kind of looking to break 80," Woods said. "It was a bit of a fight today for all of us, but we all hung in there."

More telling was his final hole. He thought he had a chance to end his round with a 35-foot birdie putt, and as it broke just right of the cup, he quickly dropped to a crouch and then rose up to go mark his ball. That was the best evidence there was no problem with his back.

"The back's great," Woods said. "I had no issues at all — no twinges, no nothing. It felt fantastic. That's one of the reasons why I let go on those tee shots. I hit it pretty hard out there."

Woods last played at Doral on March 9, when he closed with 78 while coping with pain in his lower back. He had microdiscectomy surgery March 31.

Champions: Joe Durant, David Frost and Doug Garwood shared the lead after the first round of the Senior Players Championship in Pittsburgh, shooting 6-under 64 at Fox Chapel. Still drying out after days of steady rain, the par-70 layout offered little resistance. Frost and Garwood breezed through their rounds without a bogey, and Durant offset his lone bogey with seven birdies. Bernhard Langer, Corey Pavin, Larry Mize, Steve Pate, Olin Browne, Bart Bryant, Peter Fowler and Wes Short shot 65. Colin Montgomerie, the Senior PGA winner last month, opened with 5-under 30 on the front nine before fading to 69