LA JOLLA, Calif. — There was notably less trouble locating Tiger Woods on the golf course than on the leader board on Thursday. Find the moving mass of humanity and Tiger was somewhere in the middle of it.
It is a one-man show here at Torrey Pines, now that favorite son Phil Mickelson has defected, for one year, anyway, from the Farmers Insurance Open. It’s Tiger and 155 extras, one of whom shot a 10-under-par 62 on the North Course.
That was Jon Rahm, a past champion here, who is atop the leader board after the first round. To find Woods on the leader board required a little more effort.
Woods, making his 2019 debut, shot a two-under-par 70 on the more difficult South Course and is tied for 53rd, a less than desirable effort, according to Tiger’s own lofty expectations that have not appreciably changed even with the injuries and surgeries he has endured along with his age, now 43.
“I think I probably could have shot something around 68 or 67 today pretty easily,” he said, following his first competitive round since the final round of the Hero World Challenge in early December. “I hit a lot of good putts that were around the hole that just didn't quite fall in.
“Overall, shooting a couple under par on the South Course is not so bad, but now I'm forced to have to shoot a low one tomorrow just like most of the field did over there today. I'm sure the average score over there has got to be close to under 68 today. I've got to go do it tomorrow.”
To whatever degree his game will measure up to old standards is not yet measurable, though the crowds seem identical to the heyday of Tiger mania, both in size and enthusiasm. The fans stood several deep around the first tee box, lined the entire length of the fairway on both sides and framed the green.
This was the hole that owned him in the 2008 U.S. Open when he played it in six over par in four rounds. This time he “piped it down one,” he said. “The tee shot on one was nice because normally I haven't really played that hole all that well. I didn't want to start off with a bogey on the first hole.”
From the fairway he hit an 8-iron to the middle of the green, took two putts for par and, “now let’s go to work.”
His statistics told a story of mediocrity. He hit only seven of 14 fairways (tying for 84th in the field) and 12 of 18 greens in regulations (T81), nothing to distinguish himself on another postcard day on the San Diego coast.
“I felt pretty comfortable with everything today,” he said. “I felt like I drove it halfway decent and irons were good, but not great. Just my feel, playing at competitive speed again, I didn't quite hit all my irons pin high like I normally do. That's something hopefully I'll have a better handle on tomorrow.
“It was nice to have some juice flow in the system again, it's been a while. I missed it.”