BETHESDA, Md. - Forty-year-old Australian Greg Chalmers shot a five-under par 66 to take the first-round lead in the Tiger Woods-hosted tournament at the Congressional Country Club Thursday. Ricky Barnes, the 33-year-old son of a former NFL punter whose career highlight was a runner-up finish at the 2009 Bethpage Black U.S. Open, and 39-year-old Swede Freddie Jacobson are one stroke back.
But enough about them. Woods would be allowed to be so vain as to think Thursday's round was all about him.
Leader-board permutations, World Cup distractions and the condition of the Congressional course -- tough, windy, a rough described as "healthy" and "nasty" by the participants -- all were beside the point with Woods' return to action three months after back surgery to relieve a pinched nerve.
The 14-time major-tournament champion hardly was spectacular, finishing with a 3-over-par 74. He needed 31 putts, missed four fairways and failed to hit the green in regulation eight times. After 12 holes, he was sitting an ungainly 6-over par.
Eight strokes off the lead, tied for 83rd place in the 120-player field, Woods will need a fair amount of whiz-bang play Friday just to make the cut in his tournament (it benefits his foundation) that he has won twice. That he birdied three of the last six holes was his next best news to how he felt.
"No twinges, no nothing," Woods said of his rehabilitated back. "It felt fantastic. That's one of the reasons I let go on those tee shots. I hit it pretty hard out there."
It's just, he said, that "my feels were off."
"You play with your buddies all day for cash and stuff, but it's just not the same as tournament golf," Woods said. "Different level. Adrenaline is rushing and I hit the ball farther out here than I did at home. [But] trying to get the numbers, trying to get the feels."
He began the warm, humid morning on the back nine with a bogey. Then another. Steadying himself briefly -- par, par, birdie, birdie, par -- he wrestled with a derelict putter through a string of four bogeys over the next five holes.
Predictably he was encouraged by his strong finish and cheered by the large crowds following him around the challenging 7,569-yard course. Respectfully quiet most of the time -- the tweeting was handled by real birds -- fans let out occasional instructions for Woods' shots ("Get in the hole," "Get up there," "Come on back").
And sporadically shouted, "Welcome back, Tiger" and "Keep trying, Tiger."
He played in what felt like a championship threesome, with the world's No. 6 (Jason Day) and No. 9 (Jordan Spieth), though they also had their difficulties. Day, 4-over par at the turn, shot a 2-over 73; Spieth, 5 over after 10 holes, a 74.
"We were all kind of looking to break 80," said Woods, who had a few casual chats with Day during play. "It was a bit of a fight for all of us, but we hung in there.
"Just the more I played, the more I felt comfortable about shot selections, my sight lines, all different things. If you play all the time, it's second nature. But I've been off for a while, and I've been held back and just haven't been able to let it go. Now I'm able to start doing that.
"It's nice to get back out here playing again . . . to see what I can do. I unfortunately have been, in my career, on the sidelines enough."
Thurday, Spieth confirmed, indeed was all about Woods. "It was cool," Spieth said. "It was great to see everyone behind Tiger, welcoming him back and wishing him well."