But while many obituaries were penned for the 14-time major winner when he admitted 12 months ago that any more wins will be “just gravy” on top, he showed enough flashes of dynamite in an impressive opening eight holes at the Albany Golf Club to give the neutral observer reason to believe that he may not be finished as a competitive force.
Naturally, the 41-year old California is far less physically explosive than he was at his peak following his long injury lay off following multiple back surgeries.
He’s certainly nowhere near as powerful or consistent off the tee as leader JB Holmes, who played the five-par fives in five under par to card an eight under 64 for a one shot lead over Hideki Matsuyama and a two shot advantage over US Open Dustin Johnson.
Woods was like his old self early in the day, especially with his irons as he birdied the par-five third following a deft pitch and then hit some fine approach to feel off three birdies in a row from the sixth and briefly lead on four under par. A pulled drive into trouble at the ninth led to a bogey six and an outward 33. And he was always on the back foot off the tee after that, finishing 6-3-6 for a homeward nine of 40 to end the day 17th in the 18-man field, just one stroke ahead of Justin Rose.
“If you think about it, I hit it in three bushes and had a water ball today,” said Woods, who tangled with scrub at the 16th and then pulled his tee shot into water at the last. “It could have been something really good today.
“I got off to a nice solid start and then made a few mistakes and didn’t play the par-fives very well in the middle of the round and consequently got it going the wrong way.” Lamenting his waywardness off the tee, he added: “If you are driving it great here, you can take advantage of this golf course and take it apart.
“But if you are not, you have some bushes, some rocks and it can go sideways. All in all, I felt pretty good and I’m looking forward to three more days.”
There was much for Woods to be positive about and while he shot over par, that he did it with four sixes on his card shows that he can still hit many quality iron shots and hole key putts.
Meanwhile on the European Tour, Wicklow’s Paul Dunne had to sweat to save his card in 2016 but not even the threat of snakebite stopped him firing a super 66 to grab a share of the lead with Alfred Dunhill Championship specialist Charl Schwartzel in his first outing of the new campaign.
Despite a double bogey six at the ninth, where he drove deep into a bush and decided not to risk getting bitten by one of Leopard Creek’s slippery locals, the Greystones man compensated with a tally of eight birdies.
At six under par, Dunne and Schwartzel are just one clear of a six-strong chasing pack formed by Q-School graduate Max Orrin, Scot Scott Jamieson, South Africans Jean Hugo and Brandon Stone, Spaniard Pablio Larrazábal and Swedish Challenge Tour graduate Alexander Bjork.
“I pushed my drive on nine to the right, and it wasn’t too bad until it hit the cart path,” said 24-year old Dunne, who sandwiched his double bogey six at the ninth between birdies at the first, fourth, seventh, eighth, 11th, 13th, 15th and 17th.
“It went deep into the bush and I wasn’t fancying going in there. It’s not worth getting bitten by a snake.”
Schwartzel has eight top twos and four wins in his 11 starts in the event and he’s on track for that fifth win after he followed a one under front nine with a homeward 32 for his 66.
Michael Hoey, bidding to win back his card after a nightmare 2016, made five birdies and two bogeys in a 69 worth a share of 18th on three under.
Rookie Jack Hume is 91st after a two early bogeys led to a 73 while losing Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke finished with a quadruple bogey nine at the 18th for a six over 78.