Hot start cooled by poor finish in Tiger Woods' long-awaited return

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NASSAU, Bahamas -- After a 15-month layoff that included two back surgeries and numerous people expressing doubts about his future -- him included -- Tiger Woods returned to competitive golf Thursday with a flurry of front-nine birdies and a back-nine dose of reality.

It was a mostly positive first round at the Hero World Challenge, where Woods exhibited a golf swing that was under control, a putting touch that helped save a few shots and a short game that should help put aside some of the conjecture associated with previous chipping problems.

Woods' 1-over-par 73 came after he got to 4 under through 8 holes to briefly tie for the lead, included two bogeys on par 5s and a double-bogey after a perfect drive at the par-4 16th. A good bit of air left the breezy island after Woods' struggles there, and he added to the dismay with a tee shot in the water at the 18th.

Any difficulties at this point should not be a surprise.

He finished nine strokes back of leader J.B. Holmes in Round 1, in 17th place.

"It could have been something really good today," Woods told Golf Channel after the round.?

"All in all, I felt pretty good. Looking forward to another three days."

Given all the scrutiny surrounding Woods' game and overall lack of preparation, few were going to put much emphasis on how he fares in the tournament, which has an 18-player field, including 11 of the top 20 players in the world. Woods came in ranked 898th in the world as he slipped down due to inactivity. His last tournament was the August 2015 Wyndham Championship, where he tied for 10th.?

He then had September and October back procedures in 2015, a lengthy rehab with "no light at the end of the tunnel'' and then a summer of 2016 that saw him skip all four major championships.

After serving as an assistant captain for the U.S. Ryder Cup team, Woods withdrew from the Safeway Open in October after committing to the event just a few days before. But he got to work on getting prepared for this event and showed plenty of promising signs in practice this week.

Woods climbed the leaderboard early with birdies at the third, sixth, seven and eighth holes, exhibiting a deft chipping game in the process, before losing a good bit of his momentum with a poor tee shot and a chunked chip shot that led to a bogey at the par-5 ninth.

He turned in 33 strokes (3 under) but was unable to sustain it on the back nine, where his only birdie came at the par-5 15th. He hit that green in two from 199 yards and narrowly missed an eagle putt. But he followed with a poor approach at the 16th that led to a bogey and then a poor drive at the 18th into the water that led to a closing double-bogey.