SAN DIEGO (AP) — Tiger Woods had his lowest opening round of the year since 2011. It wasn’t enough to be among the leaders Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open, but it was fine with him.
Coming off his record-tying 82nd victory in his last PGA Tour start three months ago in Japan, Woods handled the par 5s on the easier North Course at Torrey Pines and limited mistakes for a 3-under 69.
Sebastian Cappelen and Keegan Bradley had the low scores of the opening round, which was not the same as sharing the lead. Cappelen had eight birdies for a 66 on the South Course, which played about three shots tougher than the North, where Bradley shot his 66.
Rory McIlroy, who played in the group in front of Woods, was among those at 67. Jon Rahm, playing alongside Woods, was in the large group at 68.
Woods hasn’t broken 70 in his first round of the year since a 69 on the North at Torrey in 2011. His health, his game and even his momentum are in much better shape now. His game wasn’t all that far off.
“It was nice to kind of keep the round going a little bit,” Woods said. “Overall, pleased to shoot something in the 60s today.”
It took a little time to get going. He left himself in a bad shot right of the green on the par-5 10th to start his round and failed to make birdie. His flop shot from 50 yards short of the green on the next hole came up short and into a bunker, leading to a bogey. He was even par at the turn on a course where lower scores are expected.
Even so, there was little drama. The best views were of the still waters of the Pacific below on a magnificent day. The biggest roars, as usual, belonged to the Navy jets above.
Woods kept it simple, with a nifty wedge to short range on his 10th hole, a two-putt birdie from 18 feet on the par-5 fifth and an easy up-and-down for birdie on the final hole.
“I could probably, maybe could have gotten one or two more out of my round today,” Woods said. “But overall, I felt like it was a good start, especially going into the South Course. I don’t know what the guys did on the South Course in relation to the North, but I felt like the golf course was certainly gettable today.”
Bubba Watson had a 67 on the South, while three other players broke 70 on the South, which hosted the U.S. Open in 2008 and gets another U.S. Open next year.
Woods has won this event seven times, not including his 2008 U.S. Open title or the Junior World when he was a teenager. At stake this week is a chance to set the PGA Tour career victories record with No. 83 on the first course where his father took him to watch a PGA Tour event.
Rahm, who got married in Spain before Christmas and has another wedding in San Diego next month for his bride’s American family and friends, was 4 under through eight holes until he stalled.
Along for the ride was Collin Morikawa, who wasn’t even born when Woods made his pro debut. The 22-year-old Morikawa shot 70.
“I had to tell to tell myself to just focus on golf after that first hole because I could just focus on Tiger and watch him the entire day and realize I forgot how to play golf,” Morikawa said. “And that’s what I’m out here to do, I’m out here to win. It’s really cool to play with him finally and to get a round in with him because crowds are different.
“There’s just nothing like it. You can’t describe it.”
McIlroy, who has never won in his first event of the year, can return to No. 1 in the world for the first time in more than four years by winning. He also handled the par 5s by making birdie on all of them, along with adding three birdies.
McIlroy has a new driver in play, which didn’t feel right to him during the pro-am. He spent Wednesday afternoon making some adjustments and seemed to be on track.
“It’s funny, you go through that testing process at the start of the year with new equipment. There’s things that seem really good on the range, but once you actually play some rounds with them competitively and try to hit certain shots, things sort of appear,” McIlroy said. “We seemed to have fixed it.”
Cappelen, a rookie from Denmark, was doing his own thing away from the crowd, narrowly dodging the fog that rolled in late in the afternoon, and he was doing it well.
“I never really put me in a terrible spot where I couldn’t make par,” he said.