Tony Finau lit up Torrey Pines, but as expected Tiger Woods was the focus of attention.
Finau carded a 7-under-par 65 on the North Course and took a one-stroke lead over Ryan Palmer and Ted Potter Jr. after the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open in perfect weather above the Pacific Ocean in La Jolla.
However, Woods drew the largest crowd as he shot 72 on the South Course with three birdies and three bogeys in his first PGA Tour event since he underwent a fourth back surgery over the last few years in April.
“I’m always nervous (at the start) because I care about what I do, but I was comfortable,” said Woods, who has won eight times at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open. “It was fun to feel that competitive rush again. … It’s great to be back in Southern California and I love playing at Torrey Pines. The fans were incredible, they were really into it.
“ … I was probably a little bit rusty. Unfortunately, I didn’t hit very many good iron shots; I have to clean up my iron game. But I was really comfortable with the putter. … It was great to play without pain running down my leg. I felt good all day. I just have to play better tomorrow.”
The 42-year-old Woods made two bogeys in the first five holes, a wild drive off the first tee leading to one, but played the last 13 holes 2-under with birdies on the sixth, 10th and 16th holes, the only other bogey coming at No. 13.
Tiger thrilled the crowd by rifling his tee shot to within eight inches on the 189-yard 16th hole.
“We couldn’t see it from the tee and had to wait for the reaction from the crowd,” said Woods, who missed the cut last year at Torrey Pines in his last PGA Tour event. “Looking at the replay, it almost went in the hole.”
Still, he is tied for 84th and has some work to do in order to make it to the weekend.
Finau, whose only PGA Tour victory came in the 2016 Puerto Rico Open, collected five birdies on the first eight holes and added three more on the back nine in his 65.
Palmer, who has won three times on the circuit but not since the 2010 Sony Open in Hawaii, had three birdies on each nine of the South Course in a 66, while Potter, whose lone victory came in the 2012 Greenbrier Classic, also had a bogey-free 66 on the South.
Defending champion and third-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain, who won the Career Builder Challenge last week, shot 68 on the South Course and is tied for fourth with Hunter Mahan, Francesco Molinari of Italy, Julian Suri and Patrick Reed (all on the South), and Peter Uihlein, Tom Lovelady, Rory Sabbatini of South Africa, Sangmoon Bae of South Korea, Grayson Murray and Robert Diaz of Mexico (all on the North).
Local favorite Phil Mickelson, who has won the tournament three times but not since 2001, opened with a 70 on the North Course and is tied for 35th.
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