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Tiger Woods fires ‘great’ 69 in return to competitive golf at Hero World Challenge

Tiger Woods shot a 69 in his first professional round since February.

Hero World Challenge - Round One
Tiger Woods celebrates his eighth-hole birdie with a fist pump.
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Tiger Woods returned to competitive golf on Thursday, and competitors (past and present) from the wide world of sports were absolutely giddy about the latest comeback for the golfer who, more than anyone in the game’s history and perhaps in all of professional athletics, mesmerizes fans with his every move on and off the course.

Fortunately for Woods, who on Thursday put his Memorial Day DUI and 10-month layoff to rehab from his fourth back surgery in the rear-view mirror as he played his first round that counted since February, all eyes were finally on his performance at the Hero World Challenge.

From his first drive, which got a favorable bounce to miss a fairway bunker, to his final putt for par and an opening-round 3-under 69 (tied with playing partner Justin Thomas and two others), Tiger did not disappoint.

There was the 2-iron from 260 yards on No. 3 that set up an eagle opportunity (he made a two-putt birdie) ...

... and the lengthy par putt on the next hole followed by that familiar Tiger celebration ...

... as well as the back-to-back birdies on Nos. 13 and 14 that briefly had Woods just a stroke behind early leader Tommy Fleetwood.

There were also some chunky chip shots, the 1-over on the par-5s, and his first seriously mishit ball off the 15th tee, which found the gorse on the right and required a search party to locate.

But even that error did not derail his round, as Woods could have ended up with far worse than bogey on the par-5.

For sure before the tourney began, Woods watchers would have considered an upright, pain-free Tiger after playing a competitive 18 holes for the first time in 301 days a triumph for the 41-year-old with the surgically repaired back. All in all, heading into Friday just three shots off the lead was pretty, pretty, pretty good.

Indeed, Woods gave himself high marks for his first official score since that miserable 77 at the Dubai Desert Classic in February.

“For me, I thought I did great,” he told the Golf Channel. “I hadn’t played in a while and after some of the difficulties I’ve been through, to come out here and just score like I did, that was nice. I didn’t know what I could do. I’ve been playing golf, been playing a lot of holes at home but it’s a little different when you’ve got to tee it up in a tournament. I had a lot of adrenaline going there. I was hitting the ball a little bit longer than I normally do and I had to dial it back a little bit.

“Those are the internal struggles that I just haven’t been through as a player in a while,” Woods said.