DUBAI — Struggling to come to grips with the speed of the greens, Tiger Woods returned an indifferent five-over 77 that left him with a huge mountain to climb in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club on Thursday.
The former world number one dropped two shots on the front nine and three on the back nine in his first ever birdie-free round at the Majlis course, finishing the day a massive 12 shots behind Spain’s Sergio Garcia, who started with a birdie and barely took his foot off the pedal all day.
Chile’s Felipe Aguilar and George Coetzee shot matching six-under 66 to share second, one ahead of a five-man group which included England’s Ian Pouler as defending champion Danny Willett opened with a 71 before play was suspended due to darkness at 17.51 with six players on the 17th tee.
With a huge gallery following the Tiger group that included Willett and young sensation Matt Fitzpatrick, the 14-time Major winner never found any momentum at the Majlis course, but insisted he has not given up hopes.
"Hopefully this wind blows tomorrow and I shoot a good round and get back to even par now," he said. "That's certainly not out of the realm of winning the golf tournament.
"The last two drives I hit off of eight and nine today, there's something different. I need to figure out what the hell I did that was different and then replicate it for hopefully another 54 more holes."
“I didn't hit the ball very well,” said Woods, a two-time winner in Dubai. “I left probably about 16 putts short. I just couldn't get the speed of these things, and consequently, it added up to a pretty high number.”
"I wasn't in pain at all. I was just trying to hit shots and I wasn't doing a very good job. I'm fighting to try and shoot a score," said Woods who is playing in his second event of 2017.
Recently engaged Garcia, however, was quite pleased with his day’s efforts. “It was a nice way to start. "A good, solid round,” said the Spaniard, who best finish in Dubai being a tied 11th in 2009.
"It was getting a little bit tasty there at the end, the last five, six holes. So it was nice to be able to get it in on a good score. Tomorrow is supposed to be a tough day so we'll see.
"I think there were a lot of good positives out there. I played quite nicely, hit some really nice shots and made some really nice putts here and there. So overall, I was very happy with it. I felt like I was quite committed for pretty much every shot I hit.
"The passion, it's always there and it's easy to keep up. Doing what we love and being as blessed as we are, being able to do it fairly well, it's a great thing. So obviously the passion is easy to maintain.”
Elsewhere, The Open champion Henrik Stenson carded a 68 to move into a five-way for eighth along with MENA Golf Tour prodigy Rehan Thomas.
The Omega Dubai Desert Classic is backed by OMEGA as the title sponsor and Emirates Global Aluminium PJSC as sponsor. The co-sponsors are: CNN, Drydocks World, Emirates NBD, Gulf News, JA Resorts & Hotels, Mercedes-Benz and wasl, while Dubai Duty Free, Neocasa Interiors and Motivate Publishing are the Patrons in golf in DUBAi's drive to showcase the emirate's vibrant golfing scene to a worldwide audience.