Dubai - Tiger Woods struggled once again on Thursday, ending the day a distinct third best at the Dubai Desert Classic to Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer in a rare showdown opposing the world's top three golfers.
Irregular off the tee and lacking conviction on the greens, the fallen superstar had to settle for a modest one-under-par 71, over a course he usually relishes, having won handsomely in 2006 and 2008.
He did, however, enjoy a morale-boosting finish, smacking a magnificent second to three feet over the lake at the par-five 18th and sinking the putt for an eagle.
World Number one Westwood and Kaymer both carded 69s as the top three players in the world rankings played together in a competition for the first time since the 2008 US Open.
Woods opened poorly, hitting through the first green and failing to get down in two from there.
Further bogeys at four and the par-three seven, where his tee shot ended up in the lake, sandwiched around a birdie at the sixth took him to the turn in two over 37.
It was all so unlike the Woods of old and underlined the problems he is having in mastering another swing transplant he undertook in a bid to revive his glory days.
Those came to an abrupt halt in November 2009 when the sex scandal that doomed his marriage and wrecked his public image first erupted.
The 35-year-old American birdied the 10th and 11th holes, but no sooner had he got back to par than a double bogey at the next hole after another wayward drive had him cursing and shaking his head in frustration.
Woods has made it clear that while winning for the first time since November, 2009 would be more than welcome, his priority is to iron out the inconsistencies in his game in time for the Masters in early April.
On that occasion he will aim at adding to his haul of 14 major titles, leaving him three short of the all-time leader Jack Nicklaus.
A fourth birdie followed at 13 getting him back to one over, and he parred his way in before his closing eagle put a better face on it.
That left him six shots behind first round leader Rory McIlroy and still some way short of the form he will need if he is to make any real impact at Augusta in two month's time.