(Reuters) - Tiger Woods swung with rhythmic precision and wielded a hot putter to tie Rickie Fowler for the first-round lead at the season-ending Tour Championship on Thursday.
A week before returning to the Ryder Cup for the first time since 2012, Woods finished in style with an eagle at the par-five 18th to cap a five-under-par 65 at East Lake in Atlanta.
He and Fowler led by one stroke from fellow American Gary Woodland and England’s world number one Justin Rose.
FedExCup points leader Bryson DeChambeau battled to a 71 to lie equal 21st in the 30-man field.
Woods started the event ranked 20th in the standings after an excellent campaign missing only a victory in his first season back from a spinal fusion.
“I’ve earned my way back,” the 14-times major champion, making his first start in the event since 2013, told reporters.
A three-putt bogey at the first was the only blemish as Woods added four birdies before striking a crisp five-wood from 255 yards to the final green.
It was just like yesteryear for Woods, who knew he had executed the shot to perfection well before his ball landed in the heart of the green and stopped 27 feet from the hole.
“Once it reached its peak and I saw it was going through the wind I started walking (because) I knew it was good,” he said.
“It took forever for that putt to start breaking ... but once (the grain) snagged it, it was going straight right.”
Fowler matched Woods, posting his fourth 65 in his past five rounds, while Rose shot 66 despite wedge play he described as “so bad” in a conversation with his caddie picked up by the on-course microphone.
“Really happy with my round,” Rose, making his first start as world number one, told reporters after birdies at the final two holes.
“I played fantastically, drove the ball unbelievably well, which sets up the opportunity to score well.
“With a couple of holes to play I was a little frustrated I hadn’t got more out of my round.”
Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy could not parlay a hot start into a great score, settling for a 67 matched by Americans Justin Thomas and Tony Finau.
“Four-under through six, unfortunately I just didn’t keep it going but if I keep swinging and hitting the ball like that I should be right up there at the end of the week,” McIlroy said.
DeChambeau, meanwhile, struggled on what he said was the toughest rough he had experienced in his brief career.
“The rough is brutal out there. I’ve never encountered something that thick,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll learn from that and not hit as many errant tee shots.”
DeChambeau started the event with an edge in the race for the $10 million bonus awarded to the winner of the season-long points race.
Everyone in the field, however, has a mathematical chance of claiming the FedExCup.
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina, editing by Ed Osmond and Ken Ferris