In his first round of competitive golf in 301 days, Tiger Woods finished with a three-under 69 at the 2017 Hero World Challenge on Thursday.
Woods last played Feb. 2 in the first round of the Dubai Desert Classic when he shot a 77. The 41-year-old withdrew from the tournament the following day due to back spasms that later required surgery to alleviate the pain.
Woods wasted no time testing his surgically repaired back with this tee shot on the 423-yard first hole:
Any doubts about Woods' ability to crush the ball were squashed within the first three holes. He followed that opening tee shot by reaching the green in two shots on the 572-yard third hole, which led to his first birdie.
The first real indication that this version of Woods looks to be in much better spirits than the last time we saw him 10 months ago came on No. 4 when he saved par and celebrated the moment in vintage fashion:
Professional golfer Paige Spiranac and ESPN's Damien Woody shared their thoughts on seeing Woods break out his patented fist pump:
That would be just the start of good things to come for Woods. Even when it appeared things might take a turn for the worse, he was able to course-correct quickly. A bogey on the par-five ninth hole didn't do much damage because it was sandwiched between birdies on Nos. 8 and 10.
The back nine turned out to be even better for Woods. After taking two pars on holes 11 and 12, he turned in his best stretch with back-to-back birdies that dropped his score to four-under and briefly moved him into a tie for third place.
Woods did give a shot back on No. 14 with a bogey, marking the second time in the round he failed to break even on a par five. Three straight pars allowed him to end the day on a more positive note and remain three shots behind leader Tommy Fleetwood.
Even with some par-five hiccups along the way, Thursday was a huge win for Woods. Making it through 18 holes without any apparent signs of fatigue or physical problems is a step in the right direction.
Woods came into the Hero World Challenge trying to manage expectations, simply stating he wanted to make it through Sunday.
"I'm just looking forward to getting through these four rounds and having a better understanding of where I'm at," he said (via Karen Crouse of the New York Times).
Woods is also avoiding talking about what his tournament schedule for the 2017-18 PGA Tour season might look like, via the Golf Channel's Tiger Tracker:
Kyle Porter of CBS Sports likely echoed the thoughts of many golf fans and analysts watching Woods work his way through today's round :
Kyle Porter @KylePorterCBS
Me today: It's a glorified exhibition and doesn't mean much. Also me today: If Tiger can play these last few holes in 3 under I think he can get in the hunt he's going to get so many OWGR points and could play the WGCs in 2018 Furyk should pick him for Paris when is the Masters
The difference between Woods' start at the Hero World Challenge in 2016 compared to 2017 is night and day. He was 17th in an 18-player field after shooting a 73 in the first round last year.
This year, Woods finished his day with the same score as reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year winner Justin Thomas, with a chance to make a move during the second round on Friday.
The 14-time major champion still has a long road ahead of him as he continues to work his body back into prime shape for an entire PGA Tour season.
For one day, though, Woods looked much closer to the player who was named PGA Tour Player of the Year as recently as 2013 than the one who was limited to three tournaments over the past 26 months.