Coming off his record-tying 82nd victory in his last PGA Tour start three months ago in Japan, Tiger Woods handled the par 5s on the easier North Course at Torrey Pines and limited mistakes for a 3-under 69.
Sebastian Cappelen and Keegan Bradley had the low scores of the opening round, which was not the same as sharing the lead. Cappelen had eight birdies for a 66 on the South Course, which played about three shots tougher than the North, where Bradley shot his 66.
Rory McIlroy, who played in the group in front of Woods, was among those at 67. Jon Rahm, playing alongside Woods, was in the large group at 68.
Woods hasn’t broken 70 in his first round of the year since a 69 on the North at Torrey in 2011. His health, his game and even his momentum are in much better shape now. His game wasn’t all that far off.
It took a little time to get going. He left himself in a bad shot right of the green on the par-5 10th to start his round and failed to make birdie. His flop shot from 50 yards short of the green on the next hole came up short and into a bunker, leading to a bogey. He was even par at the turn on a course where lower scores are expected.
Woods kept it simple, with a nifty wedge to short range on his 10th hole, a two-putt birdie from 18 feet on the par-5 fifth and an easy up-and-down for birdie on the final hole.
Bubba Watson had a 67 on the South, while three other players broke 70 on the South, which hosted the U.S. Open in 2008 and gets another U.S. Open next year.
Rahm was 4 under through eight holes until he stalled.
McIlroy, who has never won in his first event of the year, can return to No. 1 in the world for the first time in more than four years by winning. He also handled the par 5s by making birdie on all of them, along with adding three birdies.