Until he got to the final hole.
Woods pulled his approach into the hazard on the 18th hole to finish with a double bogey for a 3-under 69, leaving him in a pack of players one shot behind Jim Furyk in the final tournament of the year.
'It's frustrating the way it ended, no doubt, because it was a good round of golf,' Woods said.
The only regrets were failing to birdie two par 5s on the back nine at Sherwood Country Club because of poor pitches, and making a mess of the final hole. Otherwise, he figures his first competitive round since Sunday at the Presidents Cup could have been a 65 without too much stress.
But that's true for many of the 16 players invited to this year-end bonanza.
Furyk had not played since the PGA Grand Slam of Golf in Bermuda on Oct. 17, and was pleasantly surprised how he recovered from a shaky opening tee shot. He dropped only one shot on a gorgeous day in the Conejo Valley, and his birdie on the final hole eventually put him atop the leaderboard.
Masters champion Zach Johnson came on strong down the stretch, with back-to-back birdies and an unlikely scramble on the par-5 16th. He hit what he called a 'chunk-push' with his 3-wood into the water, took a penalty drop that landed on shredded bark, dumped that one into a greenside bunker and holed it for a routine par. He wound up with a 69.
Also at 69 were Henrik Stenson and Rory Sabbatini, two guys who have no rust at all.
Sabbatini played in the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa, then the Australian PGA Championship last week. Stenson has been all over the world the last six weeks, going from his home in Dubai to Spain for the Volvo Masters, then Shanghai for the HSBC Championship, then Japan for the Dunlop Phoenix, then South Africa for the Nedbank, then to his other home in Orlando, Fla., before going to Los Angeles.
Not to worry -- a rest is on the way. He goes back to Florida for two weeks before heading to Maui for the Mercedes-Benz Championship, then back to Dubai.
'Air miles are not a problem at the moment,' Stenson said.
But his tee shot on the 16th was a problem. He was at 5 under and figured to be in the lead until he pulled his tee shot left of the bunkers and into a water hazard. After taking his penalty drop, he chipped back into the fairway and made bogey.
'I've come back a little bit in form,' Stenson said.
The only other players under par were British Open champion Padraig Harrington and Mark Calcavecchia, both at 71.
Steve Stricker, the back-to-back comeback player of the year on the PGA TOUR, was among those at even par after a shaky time on the greens. Stricker also hasn't played since the Presidents Cup, taking a quick trip to the TPC Sawgrass last week to get ready.
He hit the ball fine, but when his 30-foot birdie on the third hole raced 4 feet by, he walked off the green with wide eyes.
'We don't have greens this fast in Wisconsin,' he said, 'unless they've got ice.'
But it's a good week for Stricker, who has come to Sherwood the last two years to make some Christmas cash in the pro-am. He still wasn't sure he would be eligible, even as his world ranking climbed into the top 10 and settled as high as No. 4. It has become a running joke for Stricker whenever someone mentioned he got to stay all four days this year.
'This is better than the pro-am,' he said, walking off the seventh green. But as he motioned toward Woods, who couldn't seem to miss a putt or a shot, Stricker added with a smile, 'I'm starting to wonder why I even came.'
Woods has won his tournament three times in the six years it has been at Sherwood, and he was off to a good start despite coming off the longest unforced break of his career.
'I was surprised at how quickly I got into the flow of the round. It basically took a hole-and-a-half,' Woods said. 'Long layoffs, sometimes it takes you three, four, five holes before you feel comfortable.'
He was challenged early with a sidehill lie and a tree in his way. From 75 yards, he played a low hook with his 60-degree wedge to 15 feet, then followed that by pounding a 3-wood over the water to 18 feet on the par-5 second.
The end was messy, but everyone had problems. Some got over them quickly.
Paul Casey took a triple bogey on the second hole and was 4 over through four before birdies on the next three holes allowed him to recover on his way to a 72.
No such luck for Colin Montgomerie. He took double bogey on the second hole and it only got worse. Montgomerie was the only player in the field not to make a birdie. He shot an 80.