Tiger Woods had a head-on collision with golfing reality yesterday.
In only his fifth competitive round in six months, Woods fired his ball all over the place, including twice into water, as he opened the Quail Hollow Championship with a two-over-par 74.
After making his return to the professional fairways in front of a captive audience at the US Masters, Woods was expected to run a gauntlet this week on his first appearance in front of the general public.
Yet the galleries in Charlotte, North Carolina, were every bit as polite and welcoming as their peers at Augusta National. Not that Tiger noticed as he posted his worst round since the second round of last July's British Open at Turnberry, the last time he missed a cut.
Asked if he'd found the reaction of the crowds in some way therapeutic, Woods admitted: “I would like to say yes, but I was struggling so bad out there, I didn't really hear much.
“I didn't know whether I was going left or right, so I was just trying to piece together a round to keep myself in the tournament. As of right now, I'm only six back off second and one good round tomorrow can get me right in.”
Yet Tiger was a country mile behind clubhouse leader Bo Van Pelt, who made the utmost of ideal conditions to shoot a sensational seven-under-par 65 on one of the most challenging courses on the PGA Tour.
Van Pelt claimed he went “temporarily insane” for a while this year as he chopped and changed putters before returning to 'old faithful', the flat-iron with which he won his only PGA Tour title at the US Bank Championship in Milwaulkee last autumn.
Yesterday's bogey-free effort left him three ahead of Geoff Ogilvy, Billy Mayfair and Paul Goydos.
Rory McIlroy had to make do with a level-par 72, which seems like a fairly solid return to action after missing the cut for the first time in the Majors at Augusta after a lacklustre start to his first season in full membership of the PGA Tour.
Yet McIlroy had been three-under-par through 11 holes and playing very nicely before a slipshod three-putt bogey on 12, where he missed from four feet for par. This was followed by a frustrating double-bogey six at 16, the first leg of a three-hole finishing stretch known as The Green Mile.
The Green Mile began grimly for McIlroy as he pulled his tee shot into pokey to the left of the fairway.
After reaching the green in three, he three-putted once again, yet the Holywood starlet got the golfing equivalent of a last minute reprieve at the final hole when he got up and down from greenside rough for his par, boosting his confidence for today's second round by rolling home a putt from just inside seven feet.
Lee Westwood posted an erratic 73 including an eagle, three birdies, four bogeys and a double-bogey five.
Meanwhile Damien McGrane hit an opening 68 at the Spanish Open to sit in third place on four-under.
Darren Clarke completed both nines badly as he posted an erratic 75. Michael Hoey (77), Simon Thornton (77) and Gary Murphy (79) have even more work to do to make the cut.