Tiger Woods made a triumphant return to golf in the Accenture Match Play Championship on Wednesday with a start that showed fans what they’d been missing for eight months.
Just past high noon in the desert, Woods fired an 8-iron into 5 feet for birdie. Then came a gentle fist pump when his 3-iron from 237 yards on the par-5 second settled 4 feet from the cup for eagle.
He closed out Brendan Jones of Australia with a 3-foot par on the 16th hole for a 3-and-2 victory in his first competitive outing in the 253 days since he limped his way to an epic US Open title.
“It felt like nothing had changed,” Woods said. “Walking down the fairway, it was like business as usual.”
But this was no ordinary day.
Before thousands of fans who scurried through the high desert, eager to see every shot from the world’s No. 1 player, Woods showed no sign of the reconstructive surgery done on his left knee a week after winning the US Open.
“It held up,” he said. “It felt good.”
Woods said he had looked forward to the rush of competing. It was as if all that time away from golf had been bottled up inside of him. And then it came gushing out on a scorching day on Dove Mountain, where temperatures approached 32˚C.
Woods backed off his tee shot, and without much expression, belted a fairway metal down the right side of the fairway.
He won the first two holes before some rust settled in. Woods made three bogeys over his next five holes and was leading, 1 up, until he birdied the par-5 eighth with a 6-foot putt.
Jones never got any closer.
Woods seized control of the match when Jones couldn’t save par behind the green on the par-3 12th, and then Woods struck another familiar pose by raising his putter above his head as his 20-foot eagle putt dropped on the 13th.
His return dwarfed everything else that took place in the first round at The Ritz-Carlton Club.
The US’ Anthony Kim drew first blood in Wednesday’s opening round, crushing Taiwan’s Lin Wen-tang (林文堂) 7 and 5.
On a hot morning in the Arizona desert, Kim totally outclassed his off-form opponent.
Kim birdied the par-five second and, after making his only bogey at the third, tightened his grip with error-free golf at Dove Mountain’s Ritz-Carlton Golf Club.
Lin, a winner of four titles on the Asian Tour, dropped seven shots in the first 12 holes before Kim sealed victory with a birdie at the par-five 13th.
Stewart Cink was the second match out, and there were only a few dozen fans in the stands. His game with Richard Sterne was tied after 18 holes, so they headed back to the first tee — making Woods and Jones wait a few extra minutes.
Phil Mickelson, who blew a four-shot lead at the Northern Trust Open and rallied to win three days ago, did it again. He was 4 up on Angel Cabrera with five holes to play until the Argentine caught him, but Mickelson birdied the 19th hole.