Tiger Woods starts slow as Jason Day runs away with Japan Skins title with $210K

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Tiger Woods starts slow as Jason Day runs away with Japan Skins title with $210K

Golf

Tiger Woods starts slow as Jason Day runs away with Japan Skins title with $210K

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CHIBA, Japan – Tiger Woods didn’t have any issues with his knee.

Rust, on the other hand, was a pesky disorder with which he had to deal.

All in all, however, Woods was just glad to be back inside the ropes.

After a two-month break and another surgery to his left knee, Woods began getting his game back in full order Monday in The Challenge: Japan Skins at Narashino Country Club.

Facing Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Hideki Matsuyama under grey skies and then flood lights on the final two holes, Woods was more erratic than stellar ahead of his start Thursday in the Zozo Championship on the same course, his first tournament since August.

Distance control hampered him throughout and his short game was a tad off at times. He hit few fairways with driver in hand but length was not a problem. His swing and knee looked sound, and he just has to get his feels back.

“I did not play well at the beginning,” Woods said. “I hit a lot of bad shots and did not putt well. Once I got into the flow of competing and feeling the round, it just got exciting. We were competitive, the banter was great, the back and forth. And I hit some good shots toward the end.”

He won some skins along the way, too. He won two with a par on the fifth hole for $20,000 and won three skins with a 10-foot birdie on the eighth for $40,000.

But for the seventh time in his career, Woods did not win the skins game. After going 0-for-6 in the original Skins Game in the U.S., Woods was denied victory by Day, who won the first skin of the match and the last five.

Day birdied the third from 10 feet for $30,000 and won four skins with a par from 12 feet on the 17th for $80,000. On the final hole, worth $100,000, Day tapped in for birdie and then watched as Woods missed a putt from 10 feet that would have extended the match.

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Day won $210,000, while Woods and McIlroy each tallied $60,000. Matsuyama won $20,000.

“He hasn’t won one yet, so I’ve got that on him, which is good,” Day said about the final skins outcome to Woods with a big laugh.

Woods hadn’t played since finishing in a tie for 37th in the BMW Championship on Aug. 18. Two days after the tournament ended, Woods had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee to repair minor cartilage damage. It was the fifth surgical procedure on his left knee. He started chipping and putting in mid-September. Two weeks later he was hitting full shots and has been playing rounds of golf the past two weeks.

One of his best moments Monday came when calamity joined the group on the fifth hole, where all but Woods hit tee shots into the water hazard from 177 yards. Woods hit his into a greenside bunker and then got up and down for par to win the hole. Woods summed up the hilarity of the hole with a tip of his cap and a wide smile after holing out.

A good drive and a good approach set up his 10-footer for birdie on the eighth.

One of his best holes came on the 540-yard, par-5 14th. The players could only use one club throughout the hole and Woods selected a 4-iron. A solid tee shot was followed by a precise lay up, and then Woods hit a nifty punch shot that landed just one yard short of being perfect. The ball stayed up on the fringe instead of rolling back to tap-in range. But a nice chip set up his par.

“It was nice to get out there and compete,” Woods said. “To get back in the flow of things. My range of motion, my strength, is there again. I just have to work my way back and hope I find a feel for the round quickly.”

Woods likely won’t get a chance to sharpen his game Tuesday as heavy rain is expected throughout the day. Woods will have to pick up his game starting Thursday if he’s to compete against a loaded field that includes the other three players in the skins game plus Justin Thomas, who won last week’s CJ Cup, Jordan Spieth, Sergio Garcia, reigning U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland, reigning British Open champion Shane Lowry, Tony Finau, Matt Kuchar and Adam Scott.

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