Tiger Woods had a real mixed bag when he returned to action in California today.
After taking a complete break from golf over Christmas and the New Year the world number one found only one fairway all round and could do no better than a one under par 71 on the easier of the two courses at the Buick Invitational.
Three successive bogeys late on did the damage and left defending champion Woods five strokes off the pace.
The Masters and Open champion, who turned 30 on December 30, was paired with Sergio Garcia and Stuart Appleby and it was the Australian, winner of a third successive Mercedes Championship in Hawaii three weeks ago, who made the fastest start.
While Garcia recovered from two early bogeys for a 69 Appleby raced to four under and then sank his pitch to the eighth – their 17th – for an eagle two.
He just missed out on matching the closing birdies of Woods and Garcia on the long ninth, but with a 66 sat atop the leaderboard with Japan’s Ryuji Imada and little-known Americans Kent Jones, Craig Barlow and Charley Hoffman.
England’s Brian Davis shot 68, while Luke Donald, runner-up the last two seasons, was level par after 12 holes on the tougher South course and Greg Owen finished with a two over 74 there.
Woods, who plays in Dubai next week, spent part of his lay-off skiing, but much of it simply resting and spending time with his father Earl, who continues to battle cancer.
“He’s doing better – hanging in there,” he said. “He’s my dad and I love him.
“He’s my best friend and any time you can spend as much time with your parents that you truly love, especially when he wasn’t feeling all that well, it meant the world to me.
“I didn’t touch a club for 24 days, which is the longest I’ve ever gone I think.
“Normally I would say I didn’t swing a club for 24 days, but I would be monkeying around with it at home. But I decided this time that I should get away from the game completely and come back recharged.
“I just hung around the house, just really chilled and just laid low.
“I was just really tired towards the end of last year and just mentally trying to play that many events overseas and come back and play, it wore me out a little bit.
“Also my ankle wasn’t doing too good and I had a little bit of a shoulder deal. You make up for one thing by all of a sudden something else acts up and that’s what happened. So I had to lay low and let everything heal.
“I just wanted to shut it down because last year I did more practising than I normally do throughout the entire year because I felt that we had a lot of things we needed to cover and a lot of things I needed to refine.
“It wasn’t a big major overhaul like it was the previous year, it was more refinement, and I just had to get the reps (repetitions) in, so I hit more balls than I normally would. Eventually I just needed to get some time off.
“Once the new year came around and I started to realise I only had a couple more weeks to prepare, to start getting ready, then my mind kind of switched over.”