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Woods avoids mistakes, posts impressive 65

NASSAU, Bahamas — Tiger Woods saved par from the dunes with a shot so good that two spectators ran over and scooped up sand for a souvenir.

It also served as motivation Friday at the Hero World Challenge. The tee shot on the par-3 eighth that landed next to a bush was so bad that Woods said he told caddie Joe LaCava after his par putt, "I'm not dropping a shot."

And he didn't.

Woods capped a bogey-free round with an even more unlikely par save on the 16th hole. What stood out on a balmy day at Albany was a seven-hole stretch in the middle of the round in which he never really missed a shot. It led to enough birdies for a 7-under 65, leaving him six shots behind Dustin Johnson and Hideki Matsuyama and in a tie for ninth in the 17-man field.

Johnson ran off three straight birdies early in his round, moved into contention with an eagle and closed with a fearless drive down the middle of the water-lined 18th fairway at Albany that set up a birdie for a 66. Matsuyama had the lead to himself until a bogey from the bunker on the par-3 17th. He shot a 67 to tie Johnson at 12-under 132.

They were two shots ahead of Louis Oosthuizen and Matt Kuchar, who each shot 67.

The opening round Thursday was Woods' first competition in 15 months and was marked by a few mistakes.

"I wanted to keep that card clean," Woods said. "I don't know what it is about playing and competing, but keeping cards clean, there's something really special. And it feels pretty good about doing that."

And he did it quickly, in just under three hours.

Justin Rose, who opened with a 74, withdrew with back problems. That left Woods as a single, and when he realized there would not be much wind, he felt he could play just as well without a marker (typically the club pro) to get a feel for how various shots might be affected.

The par save on No. 8 and a wedge to tap-in range on No. 9 allowed him to make the turn in 33, just like Thursday. The difference was how he finished.

After pounding a drive with the wind at his back on the par-5 11th — he had to carry a bunker 290 yards away — he switched to a 5-iron to play away from a bunker to the right of the green, making sure he would have the right angle to the pin. It was right where he was aiming, a yard off the green, setting up an easy two-putt birdie. He followed that with a 6-iron to a foot for birdie on the 12th, a 10-foot birdie putt on the 14th and a two-putt birdie on the par-5 15th.

He made seven birdies, but nothing brought out the emotion like a par.

His tee shot on the 16th, where he made double bogey Thursday, took a wild hop into a bush in the sandy area. Enough of the ball was showing that Woods tried to hit 6-iron to the front bunker, but it came out heavy into more of the waste area. The next shot was well beyond the hole.

The par putt dropped on its final turn, and Woods thrust his fist toward the cup and slapped the face of his putter.

Two more pars, and he was done and feeling much better about the next two days.

"I really had it dialed in both ways," he said. "I was shaping it both ways and I really had nice control of my (trajectory). That was the key. I was able to keep the ball down when I needed to and send it at times."