Healthy Tiger more important than 77

WINDERMERE, Fla. -- There is no way around it, really. Not when the subject is Tiger Woods.

His golf game, especially now as he makes another attempt to return from injury, is the subject of considerable scrutiny. Every hole, every round, every tournament.

How about every swing?

After his first shot of the day sailed out of bounds Thursday in the Hero World Challenge at Isleworth Golf and Country Club -- his onetime home course -- the inevitable social media backlash was in full force, as if that one swing was going to determine Woods' immediate and long-term future.

An opening-round 77 that included some of the worst short-game play we've ever seen from the 14-time major champion was certainly not the way Woods wanted to return to competitive golf after what has been a lost year.

Then again, it's one round, nothing more, nothing less.

Just as a 67 would not have guaranteed a fifth green jacket in April, nor does a 77 suggest doom and gloom, either.

"Relax" might have been the best word Woods could have used when coming off the course.

It could apply to him, and to us.

Even Tiger gets jittery, and it's amazing how many times over the years he has opened a tournament with a poor drive. After never coming close to hitting a bad tee ball during the pro-am on Wednesday, Woods did so immediately to start the tournament -- but then recovered to make a 3 on the second ball, rebounding with an unlikely bogey.

Woods actually was pleased, for the most part, with the way he hit the ball -- he didn't miss a fairway on the back nine after hitting just one on the front. And at this point -- four months removed from his last competitive round, at least a month prior to his next tournament -- that's a positive development.

Even more so was the smile Woods flashed when asked if he was in any pain.

"I have absolutely no pain," Woods said. "I haven't said that in a long time. It's very exciting to stand up there and hit some of the drives, especially on the back nine. It was nice to start launching it."

Who knows how long it's been? Clearly Woods was never physically right in 2014, even if he didn't let on at first. He had issues toward the end of 2013, starting at the PGA Championship.

The problem led to surgery, an aborted comeback and another break. Now there's been a switch in teachers from Sean Foley to Chris Como, with an obvious eye on injury prevention.

Woods said he had pain-free periods this summer after returning, but they were short-lived, suggesting that he returned too soon. Now he says all is well, and has been healthy as he has approached his return.

That is a far more important factor in getting his golf game back than anything he put on his scorecard on Thursday at Isleworth.