BETHESDA, Md. -- At some level, professional golf returned to normal at 8:12 a.m. Thursday (EDT), what with Congressional Country Club's enormous clubhouse dotted with spectators, with the gallery lining the ropes alongside the par-3 10th hole.
Sure, Tiger Woods' first shot in 31/2 months flew the green into a bunker. And yes, he opened his comeback round with two bogeys, showing the expected corrosion in parts of his game.
But there was little doubt that the uneven 3-over 74 that he shot in the first round of the Quicken Loans National meant something more to golf as a sport than the occasional chunked chip shot or wayward iron -- both of which Woods hit Thursday.
"It was cool," said Jordan Spieth, who played in Woods' group and also struggled to a 74. "It was great to see everyone behind Tiger welcoming him back."
The galleries could have followed Greg Chalmers, who closed his round with three straight birdies to shoot 5-under 66 and take the lead.
They could have followed Ricky Barnes, who was just a shot back after a 67.
But on Thursday, fans' focus was clear.
"It's nice to get back out here playing again," Woods said after a warm, breezy morning round. "I unfortunately have been, in my career, on the sidelines enough, so it's always fun to come back out here and play against these guys, the best players in the world, and to get out here and see what I can do."
From the moment he committed to this tournament last Friday, Woods said he expected rust. What he got was the kind found on a car that sits out behind the barn, exposed to years of thunderstorms.
"I made so many little mistakes," he said.
He was outstanding off the tee, which was essential given the nastiness of Congressional's rough -- thicker in some spots than it was during the 2011 U.S. Open here.
Woods hit 9 of 14 fairways, but his iron game was rickety. He missed eight greens. He struggled from around the green, too, outright smothering a chip at 17 that led to one of his seven bogeys.
Throw in three missed putts from inside 6 feet, and Woods looked like a person who hadn't played a competitive round since March 9, someone who had back surgery March 31 -- which, of course, he is.
"The hard part was just getting into the rhythm of playing competitively," Woods said. "You play with your buddies all day for cash and stuff, but it's just not the same. ... It unfortunately took awhile to get the feel for it."