SYDNEY -- Tiger Woods justified his ranking as the world's second-best golfer Thursday with a workmanlike 2-under-par 69 in the first round of his Australian Masters title defense in Melbourne.
"It could easily have been 4-, 5-, 6-under-par today, but I'm right there," Woods said. "I'm only four back as of now."
"I really played well. I hit a lot of good shots and gave myself a bunch of looks early for birdie, and every putt was left a little bit shy."
The clubhouse leaders were locals Alistair Presnell and Adam Bland, who made the most of perfect early conditions to shoot 6-under 65s. Those with a later start, including favorites Sergio Garcia of Spain and Colombia's Camilo Vilegas, had to contend with a blustery wind.
"If I could've holed a few more putts, it could've been a really good round," said the 34-year-old, who last week lost the number-one ranking he had held for more than five years. "I've certainly not hit the ball like this in a first round. I hit it pretty good in China last week but not like this today."
At this stage last year, Woods had won five of the 16 tournaments he had played in. So far this season, he is without a win from 10 starts and has only finished in the top 10 twice -- including last week's share of sixth in Shanghai.
If he keeps on failing to hole those putts, Woods would mark the end of a horrible 12 months Sunday by losing the last title he holds.
Days after last year's Australian Masters victory, Woods' world was turned upside down by stories of sex romps with any number of women other than his wife.
He is now divorced, millions of dollars poorer and without the game that once intimidated opponents.
Even his swing is in rehabilitation with new Canadian coach Sean Foley taking it apart and putting it back together again.
"We practice, we talk, we text all the time about what I'm feeling, what he wants me to do, what my misses are, what the fixes will be," the American said.