Not easy, but Woods strong in 2013 Tour debut

Tiger Woods gestures after his shot out of a bunker on the par-5 sixth hole on the South Course at Torrey Pines goes into the cup for an eagle during the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open golf tournament Thursday Jan. 24, 2013, in San Diego.

Tiger Woods gestures after his shot out of a bunker on the par-5 sixth hole on the South Course at Torrey Pines goes into the cup for an eagle during the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open golf tournament Thursday Jan. 24, 2013, in San Diego.

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SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods’ PGA Tour season began with a birdie, and his first round was completed in 68 strokes. It wasn’t always easy in between, but Woods is off to a strong start at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Woods played Thursday on Torrey Pines' more difficult South Course, where only four players bested his score. In 2012, the South Course played nearly three strokes harder than the North Course. The field plays each course once in the first two rounds, then plays the final two rounds on the South Course.

Woods’ good start comes after a missed cut last week in his 2013 debut in a European Tour event in Abu Dhabi.

“I felt like I was doing a lot of good things . . . last week,” Woods said. “Unfortunately, only for a few days, but I was doing a lot of good things. And I came out here today and basically did the same thing.”

Woods hit half of his fairways (7 of 14) Thursday, and 13 of 18 greens. His two measured tee shots averaged 316.5 yards, and he needed just 27 putts. He recorded an eagle, six birdies, two bogeys and a double bogey. All three of his over-par scores came after tee shots that missed the fairway.

He had to hole a 7-foot par putt on his final hole, the par-5 18th, after his third shot flew into a bunker over the green.

Torrey Pines is one of Woods’ favorite courses on Tour. He won five consecutive times here, from 2005 to '08 (four Farmers Insurance Opens and the 2008 U.S. Open). This is just his second appearance here in the past four years, though.

He skipped last year’s Farmers Insurance Open to play in Abu Dhabi (the events were held during the same week in 2012). He finished 44th at the 2011 Farmers Insurance Open while still in early stages of his work with instructor Sean Foley. He didn’t play in 2009 while recovering from knee surgery in the wake of his U.S. Open victory here, and missed the 2010 event after revelations of his marital infidelity.

We’re approaching the five-year anniversary of Woods’ 2008 U.S. Open victory here. He relived that win earlier this week, saying he remembered two things from that week: the incredible pain from his stress fractures and torn ACL, and his horrible starts on the first hole. He double-bogeyed that hole three times in 2008.

He birdied it Thursday, holing a 30-footer after hitting his tee shot into the left fairway bunker. He missed his first three tee shots left, and was 1 over par after four holes. His opening birdie was cancelled by a double bogey at No. 4. He missed the fairway left on the long par-4 perched on cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, then pushed his approach short and right of the green and three-putted.

A 10-foot birdie putt at the fifth hole was followed by a holed bunker shot for eagle at No. 6 that returned him to red figures. Birdies at Nos. 8 and 9 allowed him to make the turn in 32. He reached 6 under par after birdies at Nos. 12 and 13, but bogeyed two of his final four holes.

“To battle back and get to 6 (under) at one point was a good job,” Woods said. “A (68) . . . is a good number.”

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