LA JOLLA – Tiger Woods was all over the map on Saturday, but the 14-time major champion managed to salvage a two-under par 70 in the third round of the Farmers Insurance Open.
"I didn't hit it worth a darn all day," said Woods, who was playing the weekend of a US PGA Tour event for the first time since August of 2015. "I was really struggling out there, trying to find anything that was resemblance of a golf swing.
"But I was scoring. I was chipping, putting. I was grinding," added Woods, who hit just three of 14 fairways on the Torrey Pines South Course, where his eight wins include his 14th and most recent major title at the 2008 US Open.
Some deft work around the greens, four birdie putts ranging from a tap-in to a 15-footer, and a few clutch par-saving putts in the bargain saw Woods finish with a three-under par total of 213 – eight shots off the lead held by Sweden's Alex Noren.
Noren, a nine-time winner on the European Tour, rolled in a 38-foot eagle putt at the sixth, and after a double-bogey at the 12th he grabbed three birdies in his last six holes.
That included a two-putt birdie at 18 which capped a three-under par 69 for 11-under 205.
"I got it around in three-under, which I was happy about," Noren said. "I hit a lot of greens. Made a mistake there on 12, made a double. It's a tough hole but a double felt pretty rough after just lipping out the hole before and having good chances.
"So I'm happy coming back from that."
He was one stroke in front of Ryan Palmer, the first-round leader who bogeyed 14 and 16 to fall back with a one-over 73 for 206.
Defending champion Jon Rahm, his eye on Dustin Johnson's world number one ranking, was in the mix, but a double-bogey seven at the 18th left him sharing 12th, four shots off the pace.
While the likes of Noren, Palmer and Rahm jockeyed for the lead in relative quiet, Woods again attracted a large and boisterous gallery.
"I haven't had people yelling like that in a while," Woods said. "I've played well here over the course of my career and I think a lot of these fans just want to see some of that. And trust me, I'm trying."
The 42-year-old superstar is making his return to the PGA Tour for the first time since missing the cut at Torrey Pines last year.
He had missed all of 2016 battling back trouble, and last year's comeback bid was cut short by recurring pain and spinal fusion surgery in April.
Woods, who says he's playing without pain for the first time in years, was trending in the right direction, with rounds of 72-71-70.
"It would be nice to shoot something in the 60s," Woods said. "I would like to do something a little bit easier than I did today, hit some more fairways, more greens, make it more conventional."
Woods's fused spine got a workout as he repeatedly hit out of dense rough.
"I was trying to miss the ball on the correct sides because I knew I didn't have it," he said. "Trying to give myself the correct angles and I did that most of the day."
But Woods said he's still struggling with his "feels" as he adjusts to tournament play with his less flexible fused spine.
"Some of my go-to shots aren't there," he said. "The only thing I have is my short game and my heart – and that got me through today."