The hype surrounding Tiger Woods’ return to tournament golf after nearly 10 months out following spinal fusion surgery reached giddy levels after the 14-time major champion made a strong start at the Hero World Challenge.
Woods, playing in the unoffical PGA Tour event in the Bahamas that benefits his own charitable foundation, had tried to set low expectations with the admission he was ‘winging it’ in his first tournament since February.
But after smoking his first tee shot fully 30 yards past USPGA champion Justin Thomas, who is himself one of the game’s longest hitters, things went into overdrive.
Tiger Woods made his long-awaited return to competitive golf on Thursday in the Bahamas
Woods made an exciting start at the Hero World Challenge, his first event in nearly 10 months
There was no sign of any grimacing in pain, clutching his back or any negative effects of his most recent serious surgery as the 41-year-old Woods set up birdie chances on the opening two holes, both of which narrowly missed.
Then, on the par-5 3rd, Woods hit a bullet of a long iron to reach the green in two, telling his ball to ‘be good’ along the way. His eagle putt was short but the tap-in birdie put him into an early share of third place in the limited 18-man event, and excitement reached fever pitch.
The Golf Channel’s website crashed seemingly under the weight of the interest in Woods, proving that while the plethora of young stars taking over golf are all well and good, but no-one captivates the imagination like Woods.
A host of professionals took to social media to share their excitement about Woods.
Ryder Cup player Chris Wood said: ‘We are all lucky to see Tiger back on the course tonight… enjoy everyone.’
The 2018 Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn joined in: ‘Nice to see the best of the best back on the golf course. Good luck @TigerWoods’
Rising American star Tony Finau wrote: ‘Tiger is the only player that can say “BE GOOD!” on the 3rd hole of the tournament and everyone loves it. Great to have you back @TigerWoods.’
A birdie on the 3rd hole saw Woods leap up the leaderboard early in the first round
The 41-year-old American putts on the 5th green as caddie Joe LaCava looks on
Two-time major champion John Daly added: ‘Great seeing Tiger back in action he’s definitely great for the game of golf! Wishing @TigerWoods nothing but the best of luck!’
Basketball superstar Steph Curry, who has played in one professional golf tournament, was agog, saying: ‘The wait is over. The wait is over. @TigerWoods’
And Michael Phelps, the most successful Olympian of all time was equally awestruck: ‘Pumped to be watching @TigerWoods back out there!!!’
The bubble burst somewhat on the next hole, however.
One of the fears surrounding Woods had been whether he had overcome his chipping yips, which first surfaced at this event in 2014, during a previous attempted comeback from back injury.
Woods hits out of a bunker on the 6th hole after missing a fairway with his drive
And after missing the green short and right with his approach, Woods made an awful mess of his chip, with his ball barely even making it onto the green.
Faced with a 20-foot putt for par, Woods stepped up and sank it, pumping his fist just like in his pomp. Cue more bedlam on social media.
A 10-foot birdie putt on the par-5 6th lipped out, and after a third of his round, Woods was one under par.
Rickie Fowler made the fastest start of all, making three birdies in his opening three holes to sit top of the leaderboard in Albany.