Playing pain-free after fusion surgery last April on his lower back, Tiger Woods gave Torrey Pines galleries plenty of pleasure Thursday.
He missed a hole-in-one on the par-3 16th by 6 inches at the Farmers Insurance Open.
After finishing on the South Course, he sparked giddy cries from kids seeking autographs, and he signed for 10 minutes.
In his second PGA Tour event since August 2015 — including last year’s Farmers — Woods was tied for 84th going into Friday’s second round. The key question: Would he make the cut for weekend play? (He needs to be in the top 70.)
His even-par 72 got better marks from observers than his 76 opener last year, when he missed the cut at Torrey for the first time in his career.
“This might sound crazy, but I was encouraged by how Woods’ body looked,” wrote Kyle Porter on CBSSports.com. “He showed up at Torrey Pines last year looking like he was trying to contend with LeBron James in the weight room.”
A thinner Tiger told Golf Channel: “It was fun to compete again.I was probably a little bit rusty. I have to hit my irons a little bit better than I did today. It’s hard to make a lot of birdies when you’re not giving yourself any looks.”
Thousands mobbed his holes to get a good look at the 42-year-old golf legend, however.
“Golf Twitter was on fire, the galleries at Torrey Pines ballooned and there was a general buzz in the sports world on Thursday,” Porter said. “You’re joking yourself if you don’t think golf is better and more exciting when Woods is playing it at the highest level.
“He might not make the cut, and he might not contend or win all year. But Tiger being back creates a palpable excitement in and around the golf world. Hopefully, he’s here for good this time.”
On Friday, Woods will tee off at 9:30 a.m. on the slightly tougher North Course, playing with Patrick Reed (tied for fourth at 68) and Rancho Santa Fe’s Charlie Hoffman (tied for 633rd at 71).
Phil Mickelson, also of Rancho Santa Fe, starts Friday at 10:40 a.m. on the South Course after carding a 70 on the North Course. He’s tied for 35th. The Day 1 leader was Tony Finau with a seven-under-par 65 on the North Course.