Tiger Woods got his season off to a low-key start at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship with four birdies and four bogeys. Picture: Ahmed Jadallah

Abu Dhabi – Tiger Woods got his season off to a low-key start at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship on Thursday with four birdies and four bogeys leaving him on level par 72.

He did finish the day three strokes better off than playing partner Rory McIlroy, with whom he is expected to duel this year for the world No.1 ranking.

But it was five shots off the pace and he clearly showed signs of being unsure of just where his game is at this early stage of the season.

It had been, he said, a tough start over a golf course recently rated as the best in the Gulf region.

“Wanted to be able to shoot under par, somehow, didn't quite do it,” the 37-year-old American said.

“Made a mistake at the last, but it was tough out there. These fairways are hard to hit and it seems like every hole is a crosswind hole. Not too many holes are playing either straight up or straight down.”

Woods started well enough (from the 10th tee) and was two under at the turn, narrowly coming up short with an eagle putt at the 18th.

But a badly topped drive at the first when his ball failed to reach the fairway 180 yards away, dented his confidence and he went on to bogey that hole and the next.

“My game plan (on the first) was to hit 3-iron or 5-wood on that hole, especially with this wind,” he said.

“And then I changed the game-plan and wasn't committed to the shot. I paid the price making bogey.”

Woods grabbed a birdie with a long putt at the eighth but three-putted the ninth to fall back to level par.

Woods has said that for the first time in several years he is entering a season feeling fully fit and confident he can add to his haul of majors titles which has been stuck at 14 since the 2008 US Open.

He has three months to prepare for the first of this year's majors at Augusta National where he has won four times previousy, the last coming in 2005.

After Abu Dhabi, the only other tournament he is so far committed to is the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, California from January 24-27 although he is expected to add to that schedule in February and March.

The winter break, he said had been beneficial as he worked hard on his short game and putting – “working back from the green”.

“I've always done it that way,” he said. “That's the way I learned how to play the game – from the green back.

“When you're 11 months old, you're not going to be bombing drivers out there.

“It's worked so far in the past and I feel very good about it.” – Sapa-AFP