LA JOLLA, Calif. – Tiger Woods knows he could have started faster, could have hit it closer, could have squeezed a few more shots out of his first round of 2020.
He also knows you can never be too upset with something in the 60s.
“Overall, I felt like the golf course was definitely gettable today,” Woods said after posting a three-under 69, his best first-round score at the Farmers Insurance Open since winning it for the seventh time in 2013. “The par 5s were all reachable, so I felt like I had to get something in the red, and I was able to do that. Got something in the 60s.”
He was three shots back of the lead when he signed his card and when play was completed for the day.
Woods began at the par-5 10th tee at Torrey Pines’ North Course—still considered a more benign test than its bigger brother the South, though the gap is shrinking—and split the fairway with the first tee shot with his new Taylormade SIM driver. But the ball collected a tinge of mud upon landing on the damp fairway, and his approach squirted right. He would need three from there for a disappointing par, then made bogey after a good drive on the 339-yard 11th.
Hardly an ideal start to his fourth decade on Tour, but Woods tightened up the ball striking and gave himself plenty of looks on the rest of his first nine, converting on 13 and 17 to get back into red numbers. He turned in even par after his drive on the par-4 18th found a juicy patch of rough left of the fairway.
That was one of very few poor drives on the day—Woods looked comfortable shaping the new big stick both ways despite not deciding to put it into play until after the pro-am on Wednesday.
“I felt like the start lines were a bit tighter, which was nice,” Woods said, referring to earlier in the week when the driver felt a bit light in his hands. He made adjustments during an intense testing session on the driving range on Tuesday.
“Felt like I shaped the ball well off tees. I didn’t hit quite as many fairways as I needed today, but overall my misses were in good spots.”
Woods has picked up some carry distance with the new driver and a new Bridgestone ball, and the 44-year-old outdrove playing partners Jon Rahm and Collin Morikawa—combined age: 47—on the par-5 fifth, setting up a long iron that barely carried a greenside bunker before rolling out to 12 feet. The downhill eagle effort never had a chance, but Woods tapped in for birdie to get to two under.
The most important par save of the day came at the 214-yard par-3 eighth, where Woods managed to get up-and-in from a greenside bunker to keep his momentum from extinguishing. He finished with another tidy up-and-down at the par-5 ninth for his fifth birdie of the day.
All-in-all, a rather stress-free stroll to begin 2020. Woods chatted frequently with Morikawa, who relished the opportunity to play with one of his childhood idols for the first time. Morikawa was not yet born when Woods turned professional in August of 1996.
“I knew a couple days in advance, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up,” Morikawa said. “You want to see it official. So when I saw a Tweet from (the PGA Tour’s) Sean Martin, I knew it was official.
“It’s exciting. You see what he’s done for the game, growing up watching him. It’s just fun to be with him.”
Woods summed up the experience rather succinctly: “Well, he’s a lot younger than me,” he said with a smile.
Next up for Woods is a 1:40 EST Friday tee time off the South Course, the canvas for perhaps the signature moment of his career, the one-legged victory in the 2008 U.S. Open. Three more rounds in the 60s there could yield yet another historic memory at this idyllic seaside property.
“I have a lot of great memories here,” Woods said after pointing out that he hasn’t just won the Open at Torrey and this event seven times—he also won the Junior World here. “It’s great to be back.
“This was my first tournament I ever went to with my dad, the old Andy Williams…so hopefully tomorrow I can piece it all together again like I did today.”