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Rusty Woods five shots adrift as Finau leads Memorial

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Los Angeles (AFP)

Tiger Woods showed signs of his five-month layoff Thursday, his one-under-par 71 putting him five strokes behind first-round leader Tony Finau at the Memorial Tournament.

Woods hadn't teed it up on the US PGA Tour since a stiff back hindered him at the Genesis Open at Riviera in February.

He opted to sit out the first five events since the tour returned to action in the wake of a three-month shut down caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The 15-time major champion had four birdies in his one-under effort, rolling in a 14-foot birdie at the 18th at Muirfield Village to finish the day in red numbers.

"I felt good, I was little bit rusty, but I felt like overall it was a good start," Woods said, adding that he was happy to feel the old pre-tournament "edginess" despite the lack of fans on the course.

"It was a good feeling," said Woods, who opened with a birdie at the 10th hole and was two-under through three before bogeys at the sixth and eighth.

His birdie at 15 was his first all day at a par-five, but he gave a shot back with a bogey from a greenside bunker at 16 before closing with a 14-foot birdie putt.

"I got a feel for the round early, I just didn't make anything today," Woods said. "I was very pleased with the way i drove it, my feel for my irons, I just didn't quite hit the putts hard enough. Most of my putts were dying."

Woods was very much in the mix, however, on a day when tough, windy conditions made Finau's six-under effort, which included nine birdies, all the more impressive.

Finau strung together three straight birdies at the ninth, 10th and 11th, and closed with back-to-back birdies at 17 and 18 to pull one stroke clear of Ryan Palmer.

Palmer had an impressive five birdies without a bogey in his five-under 67.

It was a further stroke back to Brendan Steele and 2019 US Open champion Gary Woodland.

"I made a lot of putts," Finau said. "Honestly I didn't feel like I hit it great off the tee. I didn't hit enough fairways to shoot six-under."

- A different course -

Woodland was among the players who teed it up last week at Muirfield Village, which hosted the Workday Charity Open as part of the tour's revamped schedule.

But he said course set up and the windy weather made for a different challenge.

"It's a different golf course," Woodland said.

"It's firm, the conditions were pretty tough, it was pretty breezy today," he said, adding it took more patience and a more conservative approach than the course accommodated last week, when Collin Morikawa beat Justin Thomas in a playoff after both finished 72 holes at 19-under par.

World number two Jon Rahm, who has a chance to topple Rory McIlroy from the number one ranking this week, shared fifth on 69 with Lucas Glover and Charles Howell.

McIlroy, playing alongside Woods, fired a two-under 70 while Thomas and Dustin Johnson, who also went into the week with a chance to topple McIlroy from atop the rankings struggled.

After posting four rounds in the 60s last week, Thomas opened with a 74 while Johnson carded an eight-over 80 that included a triple-bogey and two double-bogeys.

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