SAN DIEGO (AP) — The score would suggest nothing has changed since Tiger Woods last played the PGA Tour four months ago.
On the South Course at Torrey Pines, which stretches 7,569 yards and played every bit of that length in the chilly, coastal air along the Pacific Ocean, the world’s No. 1 player picked off enough birdies to put his name near the top of the leaderboard and finished with a 5-under 67 on the tougher of the two courses at the Buick Invitational.
Noting that the U.S. Open will be held at Torrey Pines in June, one caddie watched Woods complete his round and remarked, “He might have just won two tournaments with one round.”
Woods was far from pleased, however.
And he wasn’t even in the lead. That belonged to Troy Matteson, who was two shots better than Woods on the South Course with a 65, making him the first player since 2000 to be atop the leaderboard after one round while playing the South.
“I won’t top that for a while,” Matteson said.
Separating them was Brad Adamonis, who shot a 66 on the North, which is where low scores usually are shot. The North is 600 yards shorter with minimal rough, and it played 2 1/2 strokes easier Thursday in the first round.
The attention thrust on Woods is that he has won the Buick Invitational five times, including the last three years. And he piled on the pressure of having a historic year by saying the Grand Slam is “easily within reason.”
What surprised Woods is how he arrived at this 67.
His opening tee shot of his 2008 season sailed into a bunker. Another shot left him stymied behind a tree. Yet another was so far left that it cleared the cart path, and Woods had to hook his second shot so severely on the par-5 sixth that he started it out toward the right rough and ended up in the left rough.
All those led to par.
The times he managed to find the fairway, such as No. 4, led to birdie. Two more came on par 3s, and he only played the four par 5s in a 1 under par. But there he was, two shots out of the lead, already getting everyone’s attention.
“It wasn’t pretty off the tee, but I hung in there,” Woods said. “Shooting 67 is always going to feel pretty good on the South Course.”
Imagine how it felt for Matteson.
He ran off five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine, then finished his round with consecutive birdies to become the first player since Davis Love III in 2000 to have the first-round lead while playing the South. Before that, it was in 1991 when someone starting on the South was in the lead after the first round.
“It’s typically a golf course where most guys are just thinking, ‘If I can shoot even, 1-under, 2-under and then go to the North Course and really make up my numbers there,’ that’s kind of your tournament. Guys can shoot 8-, 9-, 10-under on the North Course and then shoot 6-under for the week. So we’re looking forward to going to that North Course after playing this one.”
Rory Sabbatini, Stuart Appleby and Kevin Streelman, who began the day as the third alternate, were in the group at 67 with Woods. They all played on the North, which is where Matteson and Woods play on Friday.
Phil Mickelson opened his season with a 70 on the North.
Matteson was 11 shots better than his last trip around the South Course. That was the final round a year ago, when he played alongside Woods and watched the world’s No. 1 player turn an ordinary round into a winner.
Maybe someone of that rubbed off on Matteson.
“That’s an experience that any player would remember,” Matteson said. “Anytime you get paired with Tiger, it’s very interesting from a crowd standpoint, from a what-he-does standpoint. It’s just pretty neat to see the guy shoot 66 on Sunday to win.”
Woods wasn’t the only person returning to work.
Golf Channel anchor Kelly Tilghman was back in the booth after a two-week suspension for jokingly suggesting young players wanting to take on Woods should “lynch him in a back alley.” She recorded an apology that opened the telecast.
That seemed to end a month’s worth of troublesome news in golf outside the ropes – Tilghman’s suspension, the firing of a magazine editor for putting a noose on the cover, and the death of popular caddie Steve Duplantis in Del Mar early Tuesday.
But maybe there’s more tension to follow.
Woods and Sabbatini were next to each other on the leaderboard for most of the round. They have not spoken since Sabbatini withdrew from the final round of the Woods’ charity tournament for what his agent described as shin splints. Sabbatini still got $170,000.
“I haven’t talked to him about any of it,” Woods said. “It is what it is.”
Sabbatini donated the money Tuesday to the United Through Reading Military program at a ceremony for sailors at the Navy assault ship USS Boxer. Asked if the money came from his withdraw at the Target, Sabbatini said, “That’s what the situation was.”
“Unfortunately, the media took a lot of criticism toward me after the event, in that situation I was there,” Sabbatini said. “I was tired, and we thought about it, and we thought we’d put it some good use.”
Sabbatini was asked to describe his relationship with Woods.
“As far as I understand, there’s no animosity,” he said. “We’re both competitors and we both want to win.”
But as he walked out of the interview tent, with Woods waiting to enter, Sabbatini kept his eyes glued to the ground and Woods made no effort to speak to him. Told about the donation, Woods said, “Oh. That’s good.”
The way the start of this season has gone, it wouldn’t be surprising to seem them paired together on the weekend.