Tiger Woods insisted he had not suffered an injury setback despite his comeback continuing in demoralising fashion in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
Woods failed to card a single birdie as he slumped to an opening 77 at Emirates Golf Club, two shots worse than his previous highest score in the event.
It was the 14-time major winner’s first birdie-free round since March 2014 and left him 12 shots off the lead held by bitter rival Sergio Garcia, who carded six birdies and an eagle in his 65.
Woods had said on Wednesday that his latest swing has been designed to “play away from pain” as he returned to action from a back injury which required three operations in the space of 19 months. However, the 41-year-old did not look 100 per cent fit at various points in his round, climbing gingerly out of a greenside bunker early on and notably grimacing as he walked off the tee on his 16th hole.
“No, I wasn’t in pain at all,” Woods said. “I was just trying to hit shots and I wasn’t doing a very good job. At the end I finally hit some good ones but the damage had already been done.
“On top of that, I could have hung in there, I could have shot something near even par if I would have made some putts, but I made nothing.
“The last two drives I hit off eight and nine today, there was something different.”
Woods added, according to europeantour.com: “I need to figure out what I did that was different and then replicate it for another, hopefully, 54 more holes.
“I’m fighting my ass off to try and shoot a score.”
In his first five appearances in Dubai, Woods never finished outside the top five and lifted the trophy in 2006 and 2008.
He finished 20th and 41st respectively on his last two visits in 2011 and 2014, but his career record at the event was still a combined 92 under par.
At seven under par, Garcia held a one-shot lead over Chile’s Felipe Aguilar and South Africa’s George Coetzee, with England’s Ian Poulter a shot further back after a 67.
New Zealand’s Ryan Fox defied the conditions to card an impressive 68 and finish alongside major champions Graeme McDowell and Henrik Stenson and Indian amateur Rayhan Thomas.
Meanwhile, Ireland’s Brendan McGovern dedicated his Senior Tour Qualifying School Final Stage victory to his uncle after finishing top of the class with a score of 11 under par.
The 51 year old successfully made his way through Q-School for the second consecutive year, going wire-to-wire with rounds of 66-66-73-68 to finish six strokes ahead of the chasing pack.
“It was a different Brendan McGovern out there today,” he said. “Last year, after finishing Q-School, nobody had told me that my uncle had passed away while I had been practising.
“He was buried a year ago today and I have to dedicate this to him. He was my 15th club. He was the one who got me into golf, and that kept me going today.
McGovern finished six strokes clear of Clark Dennis, Gary Rusnak and Peter Wilson who shared second place on five under par, securing their places on the 2017 European Senior Tour.
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