After fanning his tee shot at the par-3 second hole into a greenside bunker, Tiger Woods began swearing under his breath.

Yep, he definitely is back.

It wasn’t a thing of beauty, but Woods’ first competitive round in seven months Thursday still was a thing to behold—simply because he was out there. Showing considerable rust of both the physical and mental variety, Woods opened the Hero World Challenge with a three-over-par 75 on a windswept afternoon at Albany.

“I hit a lot of shots,” Woods cracked, forcing a smile. “I didn’t have my feels. I didn’t finish off the round the way I wanted to, and, consequently, it kind of went sideways at the end.”

Playing for the first time since undergoing ankle fusion surgery two weeks after withdrawing from the Masters, Woods struggled over the closing stretch as fatigue undoubtedly set in. He managed his game decently amid a perplexing wind and was one under par through 14 holes. But a poor drive at 15 into a shrub led to a double bogey at the par-5 15th, and he bogeyed the next two holes as well, the second with a three putt from 45 feet.

Up until then, Woods had four birdies, including a four-footer at 14. He also dropped birdie putts of 12 feet at the third, a 28-footer at the par-3 fifth and a monster 48-foot birdie at the par-5 11th hole.

Woods, 47, hit six of 13 fairways and just 10 greens in regulation. Six of his drives traveled 300 yards or more, so he still showed some pop off the tee. However, he played the five par-5 holes in one over par. Acclimating to competitive golf clearly is going to take a bit of time.

“I had really a lack of commitment through most of the middle part of my round and finishing. I just didn’t quite commit to what I was doing and feeling,” he said. “You take it for granted, I guess, when you’re playing all the time. OK, the wind, it’s coming up, move the ball back, you just kind of lean on it just a little bit, just flight it down a little bit, add a couple yards in. Instead of reacting to it, I was thinking about doing it. Then as I was thinking about it, should I do this or not, by then I’m pulling the trigger. I shouldn’t really pull the trigger. Hit a bad shot. I kept doing it time and time again. It was a lack of commitment to what I was doing and feeling. I’ve got to do a better job of it.

“I wanted to compete, I wanted to play. I felt like I was ready to compete and play,” the 15-time major winner added. “I hit it solid most of the day. As I said, I just didn’t mentally do the things I normally would do, and I need to do. I still hit it solid, but I hit it crooked. I’ve always had a knack of hitting the ball in the middle of the face, but I need to do a better job where I need to hit it in my windows.”

Fortunately, his right ankle held up to the stress of walking and playing a variety of shots, sometimes from awkward lies. He barely showed a limp most of the day, though he was seen shaking out and stretching his leg a few times.

“I’m sore, there’s no doubt about that. We’ve got some work to do tonight,” said Woods, who also cited discomfort with his neck and back after the round. “Tomorrow get back in the gym and activate and get ready for it. Hopefully hit some better shots. And now I know mentally what I need to do better. I think that’s something that physically I knew I was going to be OK. Mentally, I was really rusty and made a lot of errors in the mind that normally I don’t make.”

Woods played alongside Jupiter, Florida, neighbour Justin Thomas, who has become one of his closer friends. Thomas rallied from an early triple bogey to shoot two-under 70. Tony Finau and Open champion Brian Harman share the lead at five-under 67.

Tiger’s gallery of a few hundred included Arthur Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons and an investor in Woods’ TGL venture, the start of which was put on hold for a year after a mechanical failure led to damage of the league’s domed venue, the Sofi Center. (Thomas, by the way, is a member of Blank’s Atlanta TGL team.)

Though frustrated by his effort, Woods said he enjoyed the day playing in the $4.5 million event that he hosts, but is also using as preparation for playing in the PNC Championship in two weeks with his son Charlie.

“We were joking [at home in Florida] that we’re both getting ready for the fifth major in a couple weeks,” Woods said with a wide grin. “We were looking forward to that. And the fact that I’m able to play and compete against him [Thomas] in this arena, not just at home, it was nice to feel that again.”

Main Image: David Cannon/Getty Images