Tiger Woods Returns to Pro-Am Play, Cameras Come with Him, Power Off Tee Does Not

Tiger Woods played his first round of golf in front of a packed group of spectators since the Feb. 23 car accident that could have ended his career, and admitted after the round the power on his tee shots is not yet back to where he wants it to be.

"It's just not as powerful," Woods said. "I can't generate the speed I used to and the body is not what it used to be. Obviously, it's been a little banged up this year. And slowly but surely, I'll get to where the speed will start coming back and I can start hitting the shots that I see that just aren't quite coming off."

Woods is playing with his son, Charlie, in the pro-am PNC Championship that pairs parents and children.

Woods said he has a long way to go before he would be able to play professional-level tournament golf but for now he is happy just enjoying being back on a golf course with 12-year-old Charlie.

He also said the nerves he felt entering the tee box once he realized how long it's been since he played in front of spectators in a real event surprised him.

"I haven't hit too many tee shots and then ... all of a sudden there's people off the tee box," Woods said. "It was an awesome day. It was just awesome to be back out there playing and being out there with my son. And we just had an absolute blast."

One of the biggest hurdles aside from regaining the power in his swing, is strengthening his right leg that was injured in the accident. It needs to become stronger to simply walk a golf course for several hours a day, multiple days in a row, as a tournament would require.

In this weekend's pro-am, Woods is allowed to use a golf cart between shots, which he admitted made the day much easier for him.

"I couldn't walk this golf course even right now, and it's flat," Woods said. "I don't have the endurance. My leg is not quite right yet, and it's going to take time. I'm a long way from playing tournament golf. This is hit it, hop in a cart and move about my business."

Tiger Woods, Car Accident, PNC Championship Pro-Am
Tiger Woods, right, and his son Charlie finish putting on the second hole during the first round of the PNC Championship golf tournament Friday in Orlando, Fla. Woods is back playing after getting injured in a car accident, and is paired with Charlie during the tournament. Scott Audette/Associated Press

The small grandstand behind the tee was packed, everyone on their feet when Woods approached to start his round. Spectators filled every inch behind the ropes for 95 yards down the left side of the hole. It was another must-see moment involving Woods under far different circumstances.

Even so, the Feb. 23 images of his crumpled SUV and seeing him Friday in golf attire taking full swings and holing putts was no less remarkable.

Woods and his son are the featured attraction at the 36-hole event that pairs parents and children, just like last year, with one big difference. A year ago, there was enormous appeal in getting a look at the young son of the 15-time major champion.

Now it's all about the father.

Nearly two dozen media, mostly cameras, waited along the circle drive and raised their equipment each time a car approached at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club Orlando. Woods fooled them again, walking in from the parking lot, just like normal.

He stopped hitting full shots over the last six holes.

There were some positive signs. After his opening drive, he stooped over with all his weight on his damaged right leg to remove the tee. At times he walked with a purposeful stride. And at times, his gait was slower and more measured.

Woods walked from the back tee to the forward tee his son is using, and then he got into a cart that he can use for a 20-team event that includes 86-year-old Gary Player and the 11-year-old son of former British Open champion Henrik Stenson.

The Masters is four months away. Augusta National is the toughest walk Woods faces in even healthy years.

"Being able to play tournament golf and being able to recover, practice and train and hit balls after a round and do all the things that I need to be at a high level, I'm a long way from that," Woods said.

He did go to the range when his pro-am round was over, first as a spectator.

Charlie dropped a bag of balls and began hitting wedges. Woods slowly took a seat in the grass, leaning against the back of a cart, and raised his right knee.

Before long, he slowly got up and hit wedges side-by-side with Charlie, and then they moved over to a bunker for some practice. It was light and easy, which is about all Woods is able to handle at the moment.

Woods plays in the final group on Saturday along with Justin Thomas and his father, the defending champions.

Woods and his son finished seventh last year, and then Woods had a fifth surgery on his lower back that delayed the start of his season. Then, his season and nearly his career ended when his SUV that police estimated was going at least 84 mph crashed over a median on a winding road and tumbled down a hill.

And now he's playing golf again in a family event with major champions, riding in a cart. But it's golf. Asked if he was amazed to be back so soon, Woods replied, "Yes and no."

It seemed unlikely when he was immobilized for three months in a makeshift hospital bed in his house when his primary mission was to walk on his own.

Getting to his point wasn't by happenstance.

"We worked every day," he said. "Even days where I didn't feel very good, we still worked on something. There was never a day off other than those three months in bed."

Where it leads remains unknown. For now, he was happy to be playing with his son, his first appearance this year on network television with a golf club in his hands.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Tiger Woods, Charlie Woods, PNC Championship
Tiger Woods and Charlie Woods fist bump during the Pro-Am ahead of the PNC Championship on the Grande Lakes Orlando course at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club Friday in Orlando, Florida. The pro-am tournament marks Woods' return to the course ten months after a car accident that injured his legs and put him on bedrest struggling to walk on his own for three months. Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

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