Tiger Woods shines at Masters warm-up

Woods shot a first round 70 at Palm Harbour. Photo credit: Reuters

Tiger Woods took the bite out of the "Snake Pit" in his Valspar Championship debut to sit three shots behind clubhouse leader Corey Conners in the first round at Palm Harbour on Friday (NZT).

Woods, who two weeks ago at the Honda Classic enjoyed the most encouraging result of his latest comeback from injury, mixed five birdies with four bogeys for a one-under-par 70 at Innisbrook Resort's Copperhead course.

That left the former world No.1, who had spinal-fusion surgery last April and only returned to the PGA Tour this year, ahead of some other high-profile players competing this week, including world No.4 Jordan Spieth (76), four-times major winner Rory McIlroy (74) and Swede Henrik Stenson (74).

Woods arrived at the 16th, which is the start of a daunting three-hole closing stretch dubbed the "Snake Pit", with an eye on getting back into red figures and closing the gap on rookie Conners.

After scrambling for a par four, Woods then made birdie at the penultimate hole before a closing par left him in a share of eighth place with a handful of golfers still on the course.

For Woods, who was grouped with Spieth and Stenson, this week marks what is likely to be his penultimate event before the April 5-8 US Masters.

The 14-times major champion got off to an ideal start with a tap-in birdie at the par-five first hole after nearly draining his flop shot from beside the green.

At even-par through nine holes, the 42-year-old Woods then made consecutive birdies to start the back nine but followed that immediately with a pair of bogeys.

Spieth began his round with a birdie but that was the only highlight of the day for the three-times major champion, who made five bogeys during a brutal seven- hole stretch starting at the par-four third.

Both he and Stenson were overshadowed by Woods as the current world No.388 regains his form.

Connors, who failed to qualify for the Valspar earlier this week and only made the field as an alternate, mixed five birdies with a closing bogey for the early lead.