Teeing off the 10th hole, Woods raced into a share of the lead courtesy of two birdies in his opening four holes.
"I had pretty good control of the golf ball all day", Woods said. "I was very pleased".
The victor of 14 majors and 79 Tour titles has been woeful with the driver, hitting just 30 of 84 fairways in regulation, and erratic with his irons, hitting just 58 of 108 greens in regulation. Some of those misses off the tee came with driver, which he hit five times, only finding the short grass once. Steaming from those unforced errors, he was between a 2- and 3-iron off the tee. He had just 165 yards left to the green, again from fairway, on this par five but tugged his approach into sand.
But on a course with lots of water and crosswinds, Woods was otherwise solid. The ball trickled off the green, but the shot was pure.
McIlroy moved to world No 1 for the first time with victory in Florida in 2012 and lost out in a play-off two years later, but experienced back-to-back missed cuts in his past two visits in 2015 and 2016.
"I feel like I've seen enough good things in my game over the past few weeks to know that it's not far away". "It was really tough".More news: Top Astros Prospect Forrest Whitley Suspended 50 Games for Drug Violation
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They played together at Torrey Pines, where Woods somehow made the cut despite driving it all over the map. "As far as catch-up mode for the Masters, no, I don't feel like I am". "Today was not easy".
Conditions are expected to only get more hard, more wind-whipped and more burned out, which is why the winning score here has been single-digits under par four of the past five years. It was tough all around today.
Organizers also suggest you make a plan for how you want to watch the tournament, whether it is "parade" style, staying in one place and watching the field go by, or "cross-country" style by following a specific player around the course.
He had played his first eight holes in seven over par but later admitted that was "no excuse" for quitting as he struggled to get to grips with his new equipment following his multi-million dollar deal with Nike.
But given the windswept conditions, it was hardly that bad.
"I wasn't very good on Friday, and more importantly I didn't putt very good", Woods, 42, said after playing in Wednesday's pro-am competition. "I felt like I hit the ball really well, and it was tough out there".
The sheer numbers and the way they moved as one after Tiger hit a shot drove Rory to distraction - and to the medicine cabinet.