Noren, Simpson lead as Woods 'pleased' with even par 70

"It didn't feel scripted, it felt like it really came from him being honest and saying, 'I'm really sorry that you're going through this, ' and it made me feel awesome!"

"I feel like I'm really not that far away", he said. "Probably the thing is I'm so happy I'm not in pain any more, but I'm still learning that I'm stiffer than I used to be". I had to work the golf ball both ways, and occasionally downwind, straight up in the air.

Only 20 players managed to break par at PGA National. "One, the wind was blowing pretty hard, the rough's up, and it's really tough to make putts out there".

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If you've been itching, just itching, to bet your money on Tiger Woods, this is the first week that I won't call you insane for doing it. He had to hit every conceivable shot Thursday, to shape it both ways, high and low, and he executed almost every one of them.

McIlroy made a confident start with birdies at the third and fourth, but missed greens at six and seven resulted in bogeys before he pulled off a series of excellent par saves to stay within four of the lead. He turned it over a touch too much, and it dropped into the bunker.

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But what pleased Woods most was what he did next. When Woods hit 3-wood or iron off the tee it was a different story. He had a short 3rd shot to the green but pulled it left in the bunker.

"I just need to get better at it", Woods said. And so did the 6-footer that dropped for a bounce-back birdie. "As far as catch-up mode, no, I don't feel like I am".

Now ranked World No.544, Woods tied for 23rd at Torrey Pines in January before finishing four shots worse than the 36-hole cut at Los Angeles last week.

He's not flashy and generally plays in the shadow of fellow players Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, k and Ricky Fowler, but Justin Thomas is quietly putting together another strong and consistent season.

Woods, who was a late entry and committed to his first back-to-back starts since undergoing spinal fusion surgery last April, tees off at 7:45 a.m. Thursday from the 10th hole with Patton Kizzire and Brandt Snedeker. I didn't do that in L.A., hit the ball in the wrong spots and consequently, I was down the road after two days. I've enjoyed every single challenge and having to sit out on the sidelines is not fun - especially since I know the golf course. "Wind was up. Greens got a little, sort of crusty and firm".

"I'm off the morning (on day two) so hopefully I can capitalise on some calmer conditions and get back to even par, but I'm going to have to have a good weekend".

  • Lawrence Cooper