Tiger Woods on Thursday began a much-anticipated season with a 5-under 67 on the tougher South Course at Torrey Pines golf club, leaving him two shots behind first-round leader Troy Matteson at the Buick Invitational.
It gave Woods a strong presence on the leaderboard as he goes for his fourth straight title in the tournament.
"It wasn't pretty off the tee, but I hung in there," Woods said. "Shooting 67 is always going to feel pretty good on the South Course."
Matteson had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine, then finished his round with consecutive birdies to become the first player since Davis Love III in 2000 to have the first-round lead while playing the South.
"I won't top that for a while," Matteson said.
Brad Adamonis had a 66 on the North Course, which is 549m shorter and played more than two strokes easier.
Rory Sabbatini, Stuart Appleby and Kevin Streelman, who began the day as the third alternate, were in the group at 67 with Woods. They all played on the North, which is where Matteson and Woods were to play yesterday.
Phil Mickelson opened his season with a 70 on the North.
Matteson was 11 shots better than his last trip around the South Course.
That was the final round a year ago, when he played alongside Woods and watched the world's No. 1 player turn an ordinary round into a winner.
"That's an experience that any player would remember," Matteson said. "Anytime you get paired with Tiger, it's very interesting from a crowd standpoint, from a what-he-does standpoint. It's just pretty neat to see the guy shoot 66 on Sunday to win."
Woods hadn't played since winning his Target World Challenge by seven shots on Dec. 16.
He doesn't always overwhelm the North course, which is playing slightly more difficult in cold air and a stiff breeze, and with two par 3s that have been lengthened.
"The key is take care of the par 5s and then try and sprinkle in a few more [birdies] here and there where you can," Woods said.