World no. 1 Dustin Johnson, Kevin Chappell, Jordan Spieth and Justin Rose were tied for fourth at four-under.
Albany (The Bahamas): Soon-to-be groom Tommy Fleetwood set the early pace at the Hero World Challenge here on Thursday, firing a six-under 66 on Day One in trying and windy conditions at the Albany golf course. The Englishman — making his first appearance at the event — turned in a bogey free card with six birdies, and led Rickie Fowler and Matt Kuchar by one stroke.
World no. 1 Dustin Johnson, Kevin Chappell, Jordan Spieth and Justin Rose were tied for fourth at four-under. Chappell held the lead at five-under for a while before dropping to 4-under as Fleetwood went past him.
All eyes though, as expected, were on Tiger Woods and the tournament host gave glimpses of a strong return to competitive golf putting up a sturdy show on the back nine for a day’s card of three-under 69 at tied eighth, three shots off the leader. Justin Thomas, Charley Hoffman and Francesco Molinari shot identical scores to be tied alongside Woods.
Spectators made a beeline as Woods teed off at 12:05 pm local time while fellow players kept asking for regular updates on the 41-year-old’s progress.
In his first start in 10 months and only the fourth in two years following four back surgeries, the former world no. 1 didn’t seem to have issues with his back and moved with his ease.
His began with a par and after coming close on the opening two holes, picked up his first birdie of the day on the par-five third. A few more pars followed as Woods was all business — almost expressionless and clearly enjoying his return after 10 months — before providing a peek into his famous fist-pump on the par-3 eighth.
Woods grabbed his second birdie with a stunning 20-foot putt evoking loud applause, that even forced Fowler – playing almost a hundred yards away – to take notice.
It was not a smooth ride though all the way as Woods soon found out. He struggled with his chip shots, often faltering on the par 5s, that saw him placed at 1-under after the first nine holes.
On the back nine, he picked up three more birdies before a bogey on the 15th pegged him back again. Woods though would have been pleased with his effort after being away from the game for 300 days.
“It felt great,” said Woods. “It was great to be part of a scorecard again and I am delighted with how it went after all the problems I have had.
“I didn’t know what I could do. I had a lot of adrenalin going out there and had to dial it back a little. Those are the internal struggles I haven’t had for a while. This was fun.”
Fleetwood, Fowler and Johnson were the only three to produce bogey free rounds on windy conditions.
Fresh from winning the European Tour’s Race to Dubai title, Fleetwood — who arrived here only on Tuesday after travelling to six countries in last 10 weeks — came up with a brilliant show in a star-studded field. He found 15 of 18 greens and 10 of 13 fairways, a displayed that evoked praise from Woods.
Said Fleetwood on his round, “I played really well, got off to a nice start. The first five holes I hit a lot of good shots and felt like I had a good rhythm and a couple birdies early on. The front nine, 4 under on the front nine is a good start to the day. Just played solid.”
That the world no. 18 was up at 4 am to feed young son Frankie seemed to have no effect on his fluent play and he said he felt good with his scores.
“Frankie woke up about 4am so I fed him and went back to bed but then I got back up and had a bit of toast and then a couple hours later we woke up again and had more play time with Frankie and then went to the course,” he said. “I just played solid. I didn’t make a bogey and really good par to finish the round off.
Twice runner-up Henrik Stenson was tied 12th at two-under 70, while holder Hideki Matsuyama was tied 14th at 1-under.