SAN MARTIN, Calif. (AP) — Coming off a rare birdie, Tiger Woods was trying to keep at least a little momentum on his side with a 4-foot par putt on the 16th hole. When it caught the left edge of the cup and dipped out, he froze.
The ball rolled 360 degrees along the rim before it plopped back in, and Woods wasn't sure what to think.
The way his return to golf went Thursday in the Frys.com Open, he half-expected it to stay out.
Despite finding six bunkers, losing a ball in the hazard, hitting only half of his fairways and half of his greens, Woods had few complaints about his first competition in seven weeks.
Except for his putter.
"Not happy," he said after walking off the 18th green with a 2-over 73.
Texas Open winner Brendan Steele shot a 31 on the back nine for a 4-under 67, putting him in a four-way tie for the lead with Garrett Willis, Briny Baird and Matt Bettencourt.
With a chill in the air, clouds creeping down off the foothills and occasional bursts of showers, low scores were at a premium. Only 36 players in the 132-man field managed to break par. One of them came from Woods' group — UCLA sophomore Patrick Cantlay, who outplayed Woods, especially on the greens, and had a 2-under 69.
For Woods, it was his sixth consecutive round in which he failed to break par, and in a tie for 86th, he was in danger of missing consecutive cuts for the first time in his 15-year career.
"That's probably one of the worst putting rounds I've ever had," Woods said. "I can't putt the ball any worse than I did today."
Woods headed to the practice green at CordeValle in the chill of late afternoon, trying to find something. This is his final PGA Tour event of the year, and a chance to quiet the critics of Fred Couples' decision to make him a captain's pick for the Presidents Cup team, a move that left out PGA champion Keegan Bradley.
That was the last thing on Woods' mind.
"I'm just playing to get competitive and win a golf tournament," Woods said. "It's not about validation. It's about going out there and playing. And right now, I'm six back. I need to put together a good round tomorrow and gradually piece my way back into the tournament."
Woods had not played since the PGA Championship on Aug. 12, when he missed the cut for only the third time in a major and finished out of the top 100 for the first time in a major.
Seven weeks later, not much changed.
A birdie on the opening hole to raise hopes that the former No. 1 player — now at No. 51 — might be on his way back. That lasted all of one hole, when he hit three straight shots out of the sand on his way to a bogey, then dropped another shot by missing a 3-foot par putt. The next two holes were pars, but hardly inspiring.
He pulled a tee shot, looking at his hand to suggest it slipped off the club in a light rain. And on the fifth hole, he popped up a fairway metal — the divot on the tee looked like it belonged to a 5-iron — that left him 70 yards behind Louis Oosthuizen.
Even so, Woods said he was generally pleased except for one club in the bag. And it's the one club that has haunted him dating to the 2009 PGA Championship, where he lost a four-shot lead on the weekend to Y.E. Yang at Hazeltine.
Woods said the time off since the PGA Championship at least gave him time to practice, to nail down the major work in his swing change with coach Sean Foley, and to play 36 holes a day at home in Florida.
Being back on the PGA Tour was different, even if it looked the same.
He attributed it all on his putter, and trying to make adjustments during the round didn't help.
"My stroke got worse because I was trying to do it, and then I started losing confidence in it because I wasn't hitting my line," he said. "So it was just a downward spiraling. The rest of the game was not too bad. I hit some bad shots, yes. But also I hit some really good ones. And very pleased at the shots I was hitting most of the day. But I got nothing out of the round on the greens.
"And whatever momentum I could have gotten by hitting good shots ... you know, I just missed putts."
Along with that 3-foot par putt he missed on No. 3, Woods missed a simple 6-foot birdie putt on the ninth that would have put him back at even par at the turn, and a 4-foot birdie putt on the 11th.
And then, Woods made a mess of the par-5 12th. From the left rough, the grass grabbed his club and pulled the shot toward the hazard. Woods never found the ball, had to return to the other side of a creek and lay up short of another hazard in front of the green. He had to work hard to two-putt from 35 feet for double bogey.
The last time Woods missed consecutive cuts on the PGA Tour was in 1994, when he was an 18-year-old amateur. In fact, he missed his first seven cuts as an amateur. On the PGA Tour, he has missed the 36-hole cut only seven times in his career.
While questions persist whether Woods should have been picked for the Presidents Cup, the only questions for Cantlay is why he bothered returning to UCLA. He was the low amateur at the U.S. Open, set a record at the Travelers Championship with a 60 in the second round and is No. 1 in the world amateur ranking.
Beating a 14-time major champion by four shots didn't impress him.
"He played how he played," Cantlay said. "I didn't have any expectations for what he was going to do, or what anybody else was going to do, except for myself."
Cantlay is not one to easily get flustered, even playing with Woods, and it showed on the opening hole. Stepping up to his tee shot, he let out a gaping yawn, then smashed his drive down the fairway.
For the rest of the day, the UCLA sophomore outplayed Woods.
These days, that's not saying much.