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Tiger Woods birdied the last three holes to record an incredible two-under-par first round at the Genesis Invitational on his return to competitive action after seven months out injured.

Woods, 47, had not teed it up in a tournament with a cut since The Open last July, and all eyes were on him on Thursday as massive crowds followed his group around the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles.

And the American golfing hero turned back the clock to record an unexpectedly impressive round, matching his playing partners Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas stride-for-stride, often outdriving them despite his ongoing injury concerns.

Woods headed to the clubhouse on Thursday evening joint 27th on the leaderboard at two-under, while McIlroy was T6 on four-under, and and Thomas was T11th at three-under-par.

‘Misses, angles, wind – these are all things that have come second nature to a lot of these guys – I haven’t really done this in a while,’ Woods said after his round.

Tiger Woods rolled back the year with a brilliant 69 in his first competitive round since July

Tiger Woods rolled back the year with a brilliant 69 in his first competitive round since July

Woods lit up the Riviera Country Club in his first round of the Genesis Invitational

The golf legend hugs Rory McIlroy on the 18th green

Woods lit up the Riviera Country Club, and then gave pal Rory McIlroy a huge on the 18th green

‘I didn’t really look up as much. I probably should have,’ he later told reporters.

‘I was trying to calm myself down all day, trying to figure out what the hell I’m doing out here because I haven’t played.’

Many will be intrigued to see how Woods’ body holds up with his late finish/early start going into Friday’s second round, as he battles against his injuries in a bid to secure more success at the twilight of his career.

After the Genesis Invitational, Woods will be hoping to head to the Players’ Championship at TPC Sawgrass next month before a return to Augusta for the first major of the year – The Masters. 

He was given a rousing reception as he teed up as swarms of fans gathered around the first tee were in fine voice, chanting, ‘Tiger! Tiger!’ before the golf legend took his first shot. 

Woods’s tee shot just found the edge of the rough to the right of the fairway but came cleanly out with his second finishing just short of the green on the par-5 first. After a beautiful chip to within feet of the pin, he holed out for birdie and a perfect start to the round. 

Woods, who was in the marquee group alongside pals McIlroy and Thomas, saved par on one of the hardest holes on the course, the second, before finding his first fairway of the day off the third tee, outdriving his playing partners by about 30 yards. 

The 15-time major winner has not teed it up in a tournament with a cut since The Open last July

The 15-time major winner has not teed it up in a tournament with a cut since The Open last July

Swarms of fans had gathered around the first tee to watch the 47-year-old take his first shot

Swarms of fans had gathered around the first tee to watch the 47-year-old take his first shot

LEADERBOARD 

T1: Max Homa, Keith Mitchell -7

3: Jon Rahm -6

T4: Matt Kuchar, Collin Morikawa, Harris English -5

T7: Tom Hoge, Adam Svensson, Lee Hodges, Adam Hadwin, Rory McIlroy, Jhonattan Vegas, Doug Ghim -4

One-under through three, Woods sat down on an ice box by the side of the fourth tee box as he waited for the group ahead to finish playing the par-3 fourth. He appeared to remove his shoe to adjust his sock on his right foot – his injured leg. 

However, he agonizingly left his par putt short by a couple of inches after having to chip on at, seemingly missing the chance to maintain his momentum. 

On the next, he found himself out of position off the tee and was forced to take his second from an a uphill stance that no fan wanted to see the icon in, given his fragile leg, but, despite the wayward tee shot, he managed to save par and stay even for the round.

He had the chance to bounce back on the seventh, after sensational iron shot from a left side fairway bunker to give him a look at birdie, but the putt grazed the edge of the cup. But he didn’t waste another chance at the next finding the target from three feet as he well and truly heated up, first striping his drive down the middle of the fairway before striking a sweet iron shot right at the pin.

Another birdie just eluded him at the nine as he reached the turn at one-under, having found form in time to tackle the back nine. 

McIlroy appeared to be as shocked as the rest of the golfing world at Woods' amazing display

McIlroy appeared to be as shocked as the rest of the golfing world at Woods’ amazing display

The crowds went wild as Woods birdied 16, 17 and 18 to head to the clubhouse at two-under

The crowds went wild as Woods birdied 16, 17 and 18 to head to the clubhouse at two-under

There were huge crowds out for the 15-time major winner, who was returning from injury

There were huge crowds out for the 15-time major winner, who was returning from injury

On the back, though, Woods initially slipped down the leaderboard, bogeying the 10th and 12th to drop himself back to one-over-par.

While the round threatened to slip away from him, the 47-year-old then steadied himself with back-to-back pars on the 13th and 14th, before doing the same on the 15th.

Heading into the last three holes, Woods needed to find some more form if he was to shoot in the 60s on his return to the course.

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Incredibly, he rolled back the years with a birdie on 16, before rolling in a monster putt on the 17th to take him back under par, on -1.

Heading down the par-four 18th, Woods then stuck his second shot within eight feet of the hole, and he finished his round with a third straight birdie, holing another long putt to send the crowd wild at Riviera Country Club.

The 15-time major winner had warmed up for the event in the Genesis Invitational Pro-Am in Pacific Palisades Wednesday, and despite being the first out at 6.30am, he had plenty of fans in attendance to watch him head out for a vitally important 18 holes.

He appeared to make it up the steep hill to the 18th green during the Pro-Am Wednesday without issue but Dan Rapaport reported that he was ‘walking with a pretty significant limp’ during the player dining that evening.

Speaking at a press conference ahead of the Genesis Open on Tuesday, Woods was quick to insist that he believes he can win the tournament.

Woods his second shot out of the rough on the first just short of the green on the par-5 first

Woods his second shot out of the rough on the first just short of the green on the par-5 first

The golfing icon rolled in a putt on the second to save par and stay at one-under

The golfing icon rolled in a putt on the second to save par and stay at one-under

Woods, who has 82 wins on the PGA Tour, looked locked in in Pacific Palisades, California

Woods, who has 82 wins on the PGA Tour, looked locked in in Pacific Palisades, California

Woods found his first fairway of the day from the third tee, even outdriving his playing partners

Woods found his first fairway of the day from the third tee, even outdriving his playing partners

‘I would not have put myself out here if I didn’t think I could beat these guys,’ Woods said ahead of the event, which has attracted 19 of the top 20 players in the world. 

‘I’m there to get a W, OK? So I don’t understand that making the cut is a great thing,’ Woods said. ‘If I entered the event, it’s always to get a W. There will come a point in time when my body will not allow me to do that anymore, and it’s probably sooner rather than later. 

‘But wrapping my ahead around that transition and being the ambassador role and just trying to be out here with the guys, no, that’s not in my DNA.’

Woods managed just nine rounds in 2022 because of complications around the limb-threatening injuries he sustained in his car crash the previous year.

Most recently that meant the 47-year-old needed to withdraw from December’s Hero World Challenge owing to plantar fasciitis in his right foot, however he did play later that month alongside his son Charlie at the two-round PNC Championship, where players are allowed to use buggies.

‘The plantar fasciitis is no fun, and now I get to truly recover and heal and progress forward on this because there’s so many good things that I’ve been able to do physically, to be able to hit the golf ball and practice and do everything in a standstill,’ Woods said of the issue back on Dec. 18. 

A sensational iron shot from a left side fairway bunker on the seventh gave him a look at birdie

A sensational iron shot from a left side fairway bunker on the seventh gave him a look at birdie

Woods smiles alongside playing partners McIlroy (L) and Justin Thomas (C) on the fourth tee

Woods smiles alongside playing partners McIlroy (L) and Justin Thomas (C) on the fourth tee

‘But I haven’t been able to get from point A to point B, and obviously going to work on this.’ 

The use of a buggy was a critical part of Woods’ involvement in the latter, with the American having previously explained that he retains the ability to swing a club with some of his old mastery, but is currently unable to endure the rigors of a long walk. 

It is a huge boost to the PGA Tour that he has declared his intent to return to one of their non-major events for the first time since the Zozo Championship in October 2020.

Woods is the tournament host of the longtime event at Riviera Country Club, where he made his PGA Tour debut as a 16-year-old amateur in 1992 but which he has never won as a professional.

Last year, Woods finished 47th at Augusta, playing through the pain barrier after a serious car accident in February 2021 that still impacts his ability to walk. 

Woods is hoping to be fit enough to play in Players' Championship at TPC Sawgrass in March

Woods is hoping to be fit enough to play in Players’ Championship at TPC Sawgrass in March

Woods was all smiles as he prepared for his first competitive round of golf since last July

Woods was all smiles as he prepared for his first competitive round of golf since last July

Woods headed out early for his Pro-Am round Wednesday ahead of the Genesis Invitational

Woods headed out early for his Pro-Am round Wednesday ahead of the Genesis Invitational

As well as his miraculous Augusta return, Woods made the cut at the PGA Championship but withdrew in the third round. He missed the cut at the British Open, his last event at St Andrews.

His last finish at Riviera was a solo 68th in 2020. Woods is currently ranked No. 1,283 in the Official World Golf Ranking, having ended 2020 at No. 41 and suffering the horrific car crash just two months later. 

The Genesis Invitational is the Tour’s third designated event of the year, following the Sentry Tournament of Champions and this week’s WM Phoenix Open.

The designated events came as part of the PGA Tour’s string of changes in response to the threat of LIV Golf. 

The purse will be $20 million with $3.6 million going to the winner – part of the fightback against the Saudi-funded breakaway’s mega-money prizes and deals. 

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