New York: It was by no means a vintage display by the world number one, but Tiger Woods signalled he is heading in the right direction at the Players Championship on Thursday.
Six days after missing the cut by eight shots at the Quail Hollow Championship, Woods recovered from a shaky start to card a two-under-par 70 in the opening round at the TPC Sawgrass.
His body language exuded growing confidence on the back nine and, but for poor putting, he would have posted his third round out of seven in the sixties since his return to the game from a sex scandal.
"I`ve felt like I`ve done some good work this week even though reports are I was hitting all over the lot," Woods told reporters after ending a low-scoring day four shots off the pace.
"But I was working on a few things. I was very comfortable with what I was working towards and I was very excited about what was happening.”
"It was just a matter of doing it in competition, and I did it today," the 34-year-old American said after a round that featured three birdies, a lone bogey at the last and 31 putts.
Woods, who took a self-imposed break of five months after revelations about extra-marital affairs last year, missed the cut last week for only the sixth time as a professional.
Rounds of 74 and 79 at Quail Hollow gave him the worst 36-hole score of his career and he arrived at Sawgrass amid mounting speculation his liaison with swing coach Hank Haney was on shaky ground.
"Hank and I talk every day, so nothing`s changed," Woods said firmly. "According to the press, I`ve fired him five times by now over the course of my six years (with Haney)."
Asked whether he blamed Haney for his surprisingly inept display at Quail Hollow, Woods replied: "I`ve played six rounds in seven months. I need rounds under my belt.”
"It takes time to get into the rhythm of competing and it takes tournaments. Most guys have played close to double digit tournaments by now. This is my third."
Woods had a smile on his face for much of the day at Sawgrass and, though he delivered a few forgettable moments of shot-making, he conjured several to savour.
A sublime five-wood from 271 yards at the par-five ninth left him with a comfortable two-putt birdie from 18 feet and he picked up his third shot of the round with an approach to 12 feet at the 15th.
Even though he pulled his tee shot at the par-four 12th well left into a near-unplayable lie in a sawgrass plant, Woods struck a "hit-and-hope" recovery to the right of the green from where he got up and down to save par.
"I felt like I could get steep enough and get a club on it," he said of his second shot. "I decided to go for it."
Another plus point for Woods on a hot, humid day at Sawgrass was the warm reception he got from the fans.
He was loudly applauded from the moment he arrived on the first tee and was continually given encouragement.
As he walked off the second tee, a woman in the gallery called out: "Tiger, remember your dad`s with you", referring to the late Earl Woods. The world number one turned his head toward her and smiled.
"It felt good," he said. "The people have been supportive all day."