DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – This wasn’t the guy who missed his first 54-hole cut in his PGA Tour career last weekend. And certainly not the same player who played a seven-hole stretch on Saturday at Torrey Pines in 9 over par. This Tiger Woods was relaxed, if not entirely ready for 2014.
Woods birdied three of his first four holes and was pacing the field in Tuesday’s 18-hole Champions Challenge in Dubai before hitting into a water hazard fronting the ninth green. He found the same pond nine holes later to close his round with a double bogey-7.
Still, after Saturday’s 79 at the Farmers Insurance Open the world No. 1 seemed pleased with his 1-under prelude to this week’s Dubai Desert Classic.
“It was just one of those days. It happens. One of those trains you can’t get off of,” Woods said of his Saturday swoon in Southern California. “I know I’m not that far off. Just had one bad day.”
Woods flew home to South Florida on Sunday and said he practiced his putting before travelling to the Middle East. That work paid off early at Emirates Golf Club. He needed just 12 putts on his opening nine on Tuesday and hit driver five times on his outward loop, finding four fairways.
Woods rebounded from a bogey at the 12th with a birdie at the next hole, but hit his second shot at the par-5 18th hole into a water hazard and three-putted for double to finish five shots behind Challenge co-champions Rafael Cabrera-Bello and Henrik Stenson.
The combination of improved ball-striking and a familiar playing partner seemed to be the difference for Woods on Tuesday. He was grouped with Fred Couples and the two spent the entire day talking and laughing.
“Playing with Fred is always fun. I’ve known him so long,” said Woods, who will be grouped with Rory McIlory and defending Dubai champion Stephen Gallacher for Rounds 1 and 2. “It’s almost been a big brother/little brother thing over the years.”
The only bad news on Tuesday was that “big brother” won the day with Couples posting a 2-under 70.