- Bob Harig, Senior Golf Writer
- 0 Shares
SAN DIEGO -- For openers, Tiger Woods will take it.
The score certainly could have been lower, a few more putts could have dropped, but on a picturesque day beside the Pacific Ocean, a 3-under-par 69 at Torrey Pines in his first round of 2011 will do.
Playing the easier North Course in the opening round of the Farmers Insurance Open, Woods made three birdies and no bogeys in a rather mundane round that saw him fail to birdie any of the par 5s but never really get in trouble, either.
He is 5 strokes behind rookie Sung-hoon Kang of South Korea, who also played the North. John Daly, whose last victory came at this event in 2004, shot 67 on the more difficult South Course, as did Phil Mickelson, who has won this tournament three times.
"I'm happy with the way I played, absolutely," Woods said. "It could have been a lot better if I took care of the par 5s a little bit more, but obviously I didn't do that. So hopefully on the South Course I can take care of the par 5s and put together a little bit better round."
Woods had not played the North course since his 2008 victory in this tournament, which he has won six times, including four straight from 2004. The U.S. Open, which he won in 2008, was played exclusively on the South course, where Woods will play Friday. After the 36-hole cut, the remainder of the tournament will be played over the South.
Starting at the 10th hole, his first birdie of the year came at the par-3 12th, where he drilled a 3-iron to 3 feet. He added birdies at the 11th and sixth, but was unable to birdie any of the four par 5s, a big factor in his struggles a year ago.
Woods is coming off his first winless season as a pro, and registered just two top-10 finishes in 12 starts on the PGA Tour in 2010. He spent the offseason working on his swing under new coach Sean Foley.
"It feels good," Woods said. "Obviously we need more work, but it's progressing, which is good. This offseason was nice. We are able to really concentrate and do some work. Do a lot of talking about the swing and the mechanics and the feel and where I need to go and where I've been."
Woods showed signs late last year of finding his game, especially at the Chevron World Challenge, where he lost in a playoff in his last event of the year.
"Tiger has improved since Chevron," Foley said. "His swing is becoming his more and it is not overwhelmed with thought as it had to be initially. I am very pleased with his progress to date. He is very committed to trying to perfect this."
Torrey Pines is a good place to put it to the test because the venue has been his haven. He first played here as a junior golfer and has had nothing but success since, winning the PGA Tour event seven times, including the U.S. Open. His 69 was his 45th under par in 48 career rounds as a pro.
Kim was among those at 68, a tribute to his great scrambling. He chipped in from 40 feet for par, holed a 30-foot par putt from the fringe and made two other par saves outside 10 feet.
The top of the leaderboard was filled with youth, starting with Kang, who earned his card through Q-school. Rickie Fowler was voted the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year in 2010 on a ballot that included Alex Prugh; both trail Kang by a shot after opening-round 65s. Chris Kirk, who shot 6-under-par 66, finished second on the Nationwide Tour last year, when he hurt his wrist and couldn't play the last two events.
Kang had the recipe on the North Course that Woods couldn't find.
"This course, all the par 5s are reachable, so I really tried to keep to the fairways and it worked really well," Kang said. "And I really had a good chance on the par 5s. That's why I played very well today."
He played them in 4 under, including an eagle on No. 14 when he chipped in from 25 feet.
Daly has special memories of Torrey from his playoff win in 2004, but he wasn't in such a great mood a year ago. He missed the cut after rounds of 79-71, and told a Golf Channel television crew that was taping a documentary that he was done. Some media outlets construed that to mean he was retiring, although Daly had made similar comments right after a bad performance.
"You get frustrated," Daly said.
That wasn't the case Thursday, a spectacular day of sunshine along the Pacific coast.
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
Tiger Woods has his game headed in the right direction for the new year.