x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 16 December 2017

Tiger Woods makes solid start on return as Tommy Fleetwood leads Hero World Challenge

Former world No 1 played his first round of competitive golf since his withdrawal after the first round of February's Omega Dubai Desert Classic. 

Tiger Woods tees off on the first hole at the Hero World Challenge on Thursday. Dante Carrer / AP Photo
Tiger Woods tees off on the first hole at the Hero World Challenge on Thursday. Dante Carrer / AP Photo

Former world No 1 Tiger Woods got off to a solid start on Thursday as he made his latest return to golf after a 10-month layoff punctuated by back surgery and personal problems.

The 41-year-old 14-time major champion, who has not played since withdrawing from the Omega Dubai Desert Classic in February, is hoping to relaunch his career at the Hero World Challenge at Albany Golf Club in the Bahamas.

The 18-strong invitational tournament which benefits Woods' charitable foundation, features the cream of world golf, including world No 1 Dustin Johnson and second-ranked Jordan Spieth.

In early play on Thursday, Woods made an encouraging return, moving to 1-under after nine holes in a steady start to his first round.

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After narrowly missing with two birdie putts on the opening two holes, Woods made his first birdie of the day on the par-five third, reaching the the green in two before two-putting.

On the fourth, fans were given a glimpse of Woods' famous fist-pump when he saved par with a long putt from the edge of the green.

Three more pars followed before he grabbed his second birdie on the par-three eighth, sinking a 20-foot putt after a perfect tee shot onto the green.

However the first hiccup of an otherwise smooth start came on the ninth, when he was left with a long putt to save par after botching an attempted chip. His par putt rolled wide to leave him with a bogey that dropped him to 1-under.

Woods' start left him in the chasing pack behind early leader Race to Dubai winner Tommy Fleetwood, who was four under after 10 holes.

All eyes however remained on Woods, who has endured a nightmare two years which left many wondering if the greatest golfer of his generation had slipped into an irreversible decline.

Woods was forced to miss the entirety of the 2015/16 season through back injuries.

He returned to the sport after a 15-month absence at the Hero World Challenge last December, but then missed the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open in January, his first full Tour event since his comeback.

He then withdrew after firing a 77 in the first round of the Dubai Desert Classic in February and after undergoing another operation on his back in April, missed the rest of the season.

Woods has also battled demons in his private life this year, and was arrested for driving under the influence in May after being found asleep in his Mercedes-Benz by the side of the road near his home in Florida.

Woods, who was found to have five drugs including the powerful opioid hydrocodone in his system, later revealed he underwent professional treatment to help him manage his medications.

Woods, whose 79 career PGA Tour wins are three shy of Sam Snead's all-time record, has not won a major title since the 2008 US Open and has not won any event since the 2013 World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational.