(Reuters) - While Tiger Woods struggled in his first competitive round in three months, Australian Greg Chalmers birdied his last three holes to seize control of the Quicken Loans National in Bethesda, Maryland on Thursday.
Chalmers, at the age of 40 still seeking his first victory on the PGA Tour, fired a five-under-par 66 on a difficult Congressional Country Club layout bristling with thick rough to take an early one-shot lead in the opening round.
The Australian left-hander picked up three shots in his first nine holes after teeing off at the par-three 10th, then bogeyed the second before ending his round in style with birdies at the seventh, eighth and ninth.
That left Chalmers a stroke in front of long-hitting American Ricky Barnes, who mixed five birdies with a lone bogey in his opening 67.
Patrick Reed and Erik Compton carded 68s while fellow Americans Hudson Swafford, Nick Watney, George McNeill and Billy Hurley III returned 69s.
Woods, playing in a high-profile grouping with compatriot Jordan Spieth and Australian Jason Day, initially struggled with seven bogeys in his first 12 holes before recording three birdies in his last six to shoot a 74.
“I made so many little mistakes,” Woods, who had surgery to repair a pinched nerve in his back in March, told reporters. “But I played a lot better than the score indicated, which is good.
“The hard part was just getting into the rhythm of playing competitively. You play with your buddies all day for cash and stuff but it’s just not the same. It’s not the same as tournament golf, different level.”
Woods’ playing partners also failed to break par in tough scoring conditions, Spieth carding a 74 and Day signing for a 73.
“It was a great group,” Woods said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t see a lot of each other on the front nine. We were all kind of looking to break 80. It was a bit of a fight for all of us but we hung in there.”
U.S. Open champion Justin Rose of England, former PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley of the U.S. and four-times major champion Ernie Els of South Africa were among the late starters.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue