Reuters) - Tiger Woods made an encouraging start to his 2011 season without playing at his very best, firing a three-under-par 69 in Thursday’s opening round at the Farmers Insurance Open.
With the first winless season of his career now behind him, the former world number one recorded three birdies and no bogeys on a near-perfect day for scoring on the Southern California coastline.
A six-times winner of the PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines, Woods failed to birdie either of the two-par-fives on his outward nine on the North Course before picking up two shots after the turn.
That left him two strokes off the early lead, fellow American John Daly having opened with a sparkling five-under 67 on the more difficult South Course.
Back at Torrey Pines for the first time since his stunning playoff win at the 2008 U.S. Open, Woods teed off on the back nine and made his first birdie at the par-three 12th where he struck his tee shot to four feet.
With hardly a breath of wind to bother the golfers, it seemed likely Woods would pick up at least two more shots before the turn but wayward drives at the par-five 14th and 18th cost him birdie chances.
Watched by a surprisingly small gallery numbering around 200, Woods birdied the second and then got to three under after sinking a 25-footer at the par-three sixth, where he sank to his knees in relief. He lipped out with a birdie attempt from 10 feet at the par-four seventh and failed to birdie the par-five ninth after driving into a fairway bunker.
Woods, who was engulfed by a sex scandal at the end of 2009, spent much of last year unsuccessfully trying to repair his marriage and also undergoing the fourth swing change of his career.
He finished the 2010 PGA Tour season without a single title for the first time since he turned professional in 1996 and was deposed as world number one by Britain’s Lee Westwood on Nov. 1.
However, since Woods joined forces with Canadian swing coach Sean Foley after the PGA Championship in August, his form has steadily improved and he began this season with high hopes.