(Reuters) - Tiger Woods felt the pain, figuratively at least, after the former world number one failed to make a single birdie in recording a miserable five-over 77 on the opening day of the Dubai Desert Classic on Thursday.
The creaking American, now ranked 666th after his long injury layoff, trailed Spain’s early leader Sergio Garcia by 12 shots and with only three players below him on the leaderboard among the morning starters.
“I was just trying to hit shots and I wasn’t doing a very good job,” Woods told reporters. “At the end, I finally hit some good ones but the damage had already been done.
“I could have hung in there. I could have shot something near even par if I would have made some putts but I made nothing.”
Appearing for the eighth time in Dubai, where he has won twice with a 92-under par record for the 28 rounds played there since 2001, the 41-year-old Woods looked out of sorts as he continued his comeback at the European Tour event.
The numbers from the opening round were not pretty, two shots higher than his previous worst ever at the Emirates Golf Club, and nor was his swing or his putting stroke.
The 14-times major winner had also looked rusty last week when he played his first full-field PGA Tour event in 17 months after being sidelined by back pain and spine surgery, and missed the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.
His chances of avoiding another early exit looked slim on Thursday, with the American appearing to be in some discomfort as he struggled to find a rhythm and reached the turn in a three-over 40 after two bogeys in his opening three holes.
Starting on the back nine, he bogeyed the par-five opener after finding a bunker and dropped another shot at the 12th.
At the par-five 18th, his approach shot fell short of the green and rolled back into the water for his third bogey of the day. The fifth turned into a three-putt bogey and he missed par from five feet on the next.
While Woods struggled, Garcia fired a first round 65 to set the early target and open up a one-shot clubhouse lead over Chile’s Felipe Aguilar and South African George Coetzee.
“It was a nice way to start, a good solid round,” Garcia said.
Defending champion Danny Willett, the U.S. Masters winner who was playing alongside Woods and fellow Briton Matt Fitzpatrick (69), started with a one-under 71.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London; Editing by John O'Brien