Tiger Woods hits from a sand trap on the seventh hole during the first round of the Wells Fargo Championship golf tournament at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, May 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Jason E. Miczek)

Woods in contention after even-par 71 at Wells Fargo Championship

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — For all the hoopla, the anticipation and excitement that came with Tiger Woods’ first round at Quail Hollow Club in six years, there were few highlights. Few “wow” moments. And when it finally came to an end Thursday evening, after more than five hours of toiling around the course, Woods’ round began the exact same way it ended.

With a raucous crowd, a missed birdie putt and an even score.

Woods finished the first round of the Wells Fargo Championship on Thursday with a score of 71, even par. He birdied three holes, bogeyed three others, all to end up right where he’d began.

“It was an all right day. I hit it all right,” Woods said. “Just struggled with the speed of the greens. They’re on the slower side. They feel springy and they feel fast, especially as I’m walking on them, but they’re not putting that way.

“What I was feeling and sensing just didn’t match up.”

Woods had said the same of the greens at Quail Hollow after his pro-am round Wednesday, but Thursday it actually mattered. The 14-time major champion hit both his driver and his irons well — something that hasn’t been a given since his multiple back issues — and instead struggled with a part of his game that has always come somewhat naturally.

“I’ve always been a pretty good putter my whole career, so that’ll be something I’ve never really worried too much about,” Woods said. “I hit the ball fine today. If I just make a few putts, I’d probably shoot two or three under par, which is fine.

“I just didn’t make anything today.”

One of the first missed opportunities for Woods came on the No. 4, when he narrowly missed a par putt and went over for the first time on a hole. The same thing happened again at the long par 5 on No. 10, and then again at No. 16.

But while Woods focused on what he missed on the greens, he neglected to mention that he also made things work on a handful. He birdied back-to-back holes on No. 7 and No. 8 right before the turn to the back nine, and even had a shot at a third straight birdie on No. 9. A terrific second shot at No. 15, the last of the par 5s, set him up well for his final birdie of the afternoon (even if he did give that stroke right back on No. 16).

“Ball-striking-wise, I’m fine, I’m right there,” Woods said. “I make a couple of putts and I’m 2 or 3 under par, which is fine. I have a couple of putts I missed that I usually make — at 14, at 16 — so I make those and I’m 2, 3 under par without really doing much.”

So how did Woods’ first round set him up for the rest of the weekend?

It may not appear it on first glance, but actually fairly well.

When Woods finished his round, the leaderboard was stacked with five players at 4 under. While John Peterson finished the day at 6 under after Woods had finished, Woods made a point that remains true — he’s still right in the thick of this.

“The way this golf course is set up and the way it’s playing right now, the guys are going to be stacked,” Woods said. “We’re all going to be close. There’s probably going to be, I’m guessing, 15 guys with a chance on Sunday.”

Which is good news for Woods and his fans … speaking of which, were everywhere Thursday. On Woods’ short walk from the driving range to the first hole, it was as if he had his own gravitational pull. The fans weren’t coming for reigning U.S Open champion Brooks Koepka, who is recovering from a torn tendon in his wrist. Nor for Patrick Reed, the reigning Masters champion.

They came for Woods, and in droves, forming a line five-deep that stretched the 495 yards on that first hole.

And no, maybe those fans didn’t get a full round of vintage Tiger Woods … but they did get glimpses. That, and a score good enough to keep him in contention.

When Woods walked off the course after the 18th hole, he fought through that same swarm of fans. Their calls all ran together — “Make it to the weekend, Tiger! A few more putts and it’s yours, Tiger!” — but the message was the same. Even in a round that ended back at square one, that proved to be good enough to keep Woods in the hunt … or at least to make the cut, which he hasn’t done his past two tournaments at Quail Hollow.

But while Woods’ score may have been OK, it wasn’t something he felt satisfied with. He lamented the speed of the greens and how they played at length after he finished, just reiterating what he needed to work on.

And then came a question that caused Woods to flash his signature smile: When are you heading to the putting green?

“Soon as I’m done talking with you guys.”

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