Playing in cool and soggy conditions, he shot a 4-over 76 on Thursday at Torrey Pines in the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open. He found only four fairways and nine greens in regulation and struggled on the back nine during the five-hour-and-20-minute adventure.
"So much is different," said Woods, a seven-time winner of the tournament. "It was just a different rhythm. I was in the rough most of the day, and it was wet. I'm just trying to get used to a little bit of this."
Paired with Jason Day and Dustin Johnson on a cloudless day, there was great anticipation for Tiger's return, his first event since the unofficial Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas in December. The first tee was jammed with spectators, and on most holes, galleries were two or three deep.
Woods blocked his opening drive into the trees to the right of the fairway and the ball settled into thick, moist rough. He went on to make bogey.
Showcasing his scrambling skills, Tiger parred the next eight holes to make the turn in 1-over 37.
Woods produced his first birdie on TOUR in 523 days at the par-4 10th. He pulled his tee shot into the left rough, just shy of a fairway bunker. From there, he hit his approach shot from 140 yards within 10 feet of the pin and poured in the left to right putt.
Tiger added another birdie at the 221-yard, par-3 11th, knocking a 4-iron 12 feet below the cup. That moved him to 1-under with a short par-4 and reachable par-5 coming up.
But Woods couldn't find the fairway and bogeyed No. 12, three-putted No.13 for a bogey, bogeyed No. 14 after a poor drive and then hooked his drive way left into the hazard at the par-5 15th to make double-bogey.
He recovered to roll in a nice eight-foot birdie putt at the par-5 18th hole, gaining momentum which he hopes to build on Friday.
"I was in good shape," Tiger said. "I could have put together a pretty good round. And it went the other way. I just kept compounding problems and mistakes out there."
It was his highest first round to start a season since shooting 73 in 2015 at the Waste Management Open.
Woods is tied for 133rd, 11 strokes behind leader Justin Rose, who fired a 7-under 65 on the shorter North Course.
"I fought my tail off out there," Tiger said.
Unable to establish a comfortable swing tempo, Woods did not hit a fairway after the seventh hole, missing in both directions. This may not come as much of a surprise, considering his last PGA TOUR appearance was at the 2015 Wyndham Championship. Plus, the South Course ranked second in difficulty on the circuit last year.
Throughout the round, caddie Joe LaCava reminded him to remain patient.
"I didn't quite smile at him a few of those times," Woods said. "But I was fighting out there trying to get my ball around the course and score."
Day, ranked No. 1 in the world, shot 73, and took the long view.
"We can't break down everything he did today because it's been 17 months," Day said. "Let him go a year, let him play and go from there."
Tiger begins second-round play Friday at 12:30 p.m. ET on the 10th tee of the North Course, again paired with Day and Johnson.