PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Tiger Woods discovered how tough Innisbrook can be in a swirling wind, and he was up to the task.
Woods smacked his hands into an oak as he let loose of the club during a bold escape from the trees, came within inches of an ace on the next hole, and most importantly was among 27 players – just under 20 percent of the field – to break par Thursday in the Valspar Championship.
Canadian rookie Corey Conners, who got into the field as an alternate not long after he failed to get through Monday qualifying, didn't make a bogey until his final hole at No. 9 and shot a 4-under 67.
That gave him a one-shot lead over Nick Watney, Whee Kim and Kelly Kraft. Only three other players, including former PGA champion Jimmy Walker broke 70.
Woods made five birdies to counter his mistakes in his round of 70.
This was his first time playing the Valspar Championship, and it got his attention.
“I enjoy when par is a good score. It's a reward,” Woods said. “There are some tournaments when about four holes you don't make a birdie, you feel like you're behind. Today, made a couple of birdies, all of a sudden puts me fourth, fifth, right away. That's how hard it is.”
Jordan Spieth, who won at Innisbrook in a playoff in 2015, didn't make a birdie after the par-5 opening hole and shot a 76. Rory McIlroy, who like Woods was making his debut in this event, shot 74.
Henrik Stenson, who played with Spieth and Woods, also shot 74.
EUROPEAN: In New Delhi, Shubhankar Sharma had wildly contrasting nines but recovered for a 1-over 73 in his opening round at the Indian Open on his home course, two days after receiving a special invitation to play in the Masters.
Starting on the back nine at the tough DLF Golf and Country Club, Sharma shot 41 with three bogeys and a double-bogey. But he came back on his final nine to shoot 32 with four birdies and was eight strokes behind leader Emiliano Grillo, who shot a 65.