(Reuters) - Tiger Woods's first competitive round in nearly 16 months provided more questions than answers as he teased golf fans with a performance that fluctuated between brilliant and dreadful at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas on Thursday.
Woods, who had been sidelined due to a chronic back injury, shot a one-over 73 to sit in second-to-last place of the elite 18-player field, nine shots back of leader J.B. Holmes.
On the front nine the 14-times major winner looked like the player who once dominated the sport as he stormed to four-under through eight holes, including a sizzling stretch of three straight birdies from the sixth.
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But on an error-strewn back nine the misfiring 40-year-old looked lost for ideas and control, particularly off the tee, carding two double-bogeys over his final three holes, including one at the 18th to cap a rollercoaster afternoon.
"If you think about it I hit the ball into three bushes and a water ball today, it could have been something really good," Woods told the Golf Channel. "I got off to a nice solid start and made a few mistakes."
Only Briton Justin Rose (72), who is battling back problems of his own, finished below Woods.
While Woods is guaranteed at least three more rounds at the event he hosts to benefit of his charitable foundation, it is clear there is still much work ahead if he hopes to add to his 79 PGA Tour wins.
"I just need to keep playing, my feel just has to keep coming back," Woods told reporters. "It felt good to have that adrenaline surging through the system again. It's been a long time.
"To get up there on that first hole and feel it again and then dumb it down to be able to control it and get into my feel where I play my best that was nice. I got it pretty quick."
Greeted by applause from a small gallery, Woods, dressed all in black except for a white glove, was all smiles as he stepped up to the par-four first tee on a blustery day at the exclusive Albany course and pulled his opening drive left and narrowly avoided a fairway bunker.
Woods then hit a solid approach shot to reach the green in two, missed a long birdie putt before rolling in a routine three-footer for par.
After another par at the second Woods began a trademark charge with a tap in birdie at the par-five third.
He then shifted into top gear with a run of three straight birdies to move into a share of the lead. But his round began to unravel with a bogey at the par-five ninth.
That was followed by another bogey at the 11th and a birdie at the par-five 15th after missing an eagle chance from 10 feet.
From that point it was all downhill for Woods, as his tee shot at 16 once again landed deep in the scrub land forcing him to hit backwards onto the fairway on way to a double-bogey.
At the 18th, Woods found the water with his tee shot to set up yet another double-bogey that sent him tumbling down the leaderboard.
"Unfortunately I made those mistakes, I can clean that up. We have three more days," said Woods. "I just made a couple mistakes on par fives ... I should have just tore those holes apart.
"All in all, I felt pretty good."
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Frank Pingue)