California: Tiger Woods put himself in position to end a forgettable year on a triumphant note by charging one shot clear in the Chevron World Challenge first round on Thursday.
Seeking his first victory of 2010 in his own tournament after becoming engulfed in a torrid sex scandal at the end of last season, Woods fired a sparkling seven-under-par 65 at Sherwood Country Club.
Although he recorded his only bogey at the par-four last after pushing his tee shot behind a tree, Woods matched his lowest score of the year to finish one shot ahead of Britons Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell in the elite field of 18.
Woods, whose last tournament victory came at the 2009 Australian Masters, opened with a 65 at the PGA Tour’s Barclays tournament in August and fired another 65 in the second round of the Deutsche Bank Championship the following week.
He also recorded a 65 in the final round of last month’s Australian Masters.
“I played good today,” Woods told reporters after recording birdies on each of the five par-fives. “I really striped it. I hit a lot of good shots.
“It’s not too often I can say I shot 65 and only made one putt, but that’s kind of what I did today,” added the world number two who totalled 32 putts on smooth-running greens.
“I only made one putt and it was on (hole) nine. The rest were either two putts or kick-ins. It was a good ball-striking day.”
Asked if he was back to his best after struggling on and off the course since his private life unravelled at the end of last season amid sordid revelations of serial philandering, Woods replied: “It’s a process.
“I was putting together streaks of holes -- two, three, four, five holes of this -- and then I’d lose it for a little bit. I needed to get to a full round and then eventually a full tournament. Today was a full round, so that’s a good start.”
Woods took a five-month break from the game going into this season in an ultimately unsuccessful bid to repair his marriage and embarked on the fourth swing change of his career in August.
Playing in his own charity event for the first time in three years, the four-times champion rattled up four birdies in bright sunshine to reach the turn in four-under 32.
His birdie at the par-four seventh, where he struck a superb nine-iron approach to three feet, sparked roars of “Tiger” and “Whoah” from a gallery numbering less than 200.
As Woods approached the seventh green, a fan shouted out: “Great shot, buddy” and the 14-times major champion responded by turning his head with a smile.
He picked up further shots at the 10th, 11th, 13th and 16th to lead by one before his cushion was doubled when U.S. Open champion McDowell bogeyed the tricky 18th.
Woods then pushed his tee shot well right at the last, hacked out on to the fairway with his second and struck his third on to the bottom tier of the green before two-putting for a five.
“It was a lack of commitment,” Woods said of his tee shot on 18. “I couldn’t really commit to hitting a low fade off the tee there and hit a pop-up.”
Long-hitting Dustin Johnson eagled the par-five fifth on the way to a 69 to end a surprisingly warm day in a tie for fourth with fellow American Stewart Cink.
American world number six Jim Furyk, who clinched last year’s title by one shot over Northern Irishman McDowell, opened with a 72.