Tiger Woods fought off a rusty golf game to shoot an even-par 72 opening round in his US PGA Tour comeback at Torrey Pines.

After battling a wayward driver, the 14-time major champion nearly bagged a hole-in-one at the par-3 16th to claw back to even par.

Big-hitting Tony Finau is the clubhouse leader after his seven-under-par 65 on the North course gave him a one-shot lead over fellow Americans Ryan Palmer and Ted Potter.

Woods, who has won eight times at Torrey Pines including the 2008 US Open, is playing his first full-field tournament in 11 months after undergoing spinal fusion surgery.

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Poor tee shots led to an opening-hole bogey before dropping another shot at the fifth, but the 42-year-old bounced back with a birdie at the sixth.

"It was fun to compete again. It was fun to be out there," Woods said.

Woods was steady on the South Course, and at times spectacular.

His three birdie putts were from a combined 30 inches. The longest of his birdie putt was from just inside 2 feet on No. 10 that got him back to even par for the round. He was one rotation away from making a long eagle putt on the par-5 sixth.

What really made the gallery delirious was his 6-iron on par-3 16th hole that rolled toward the hole and broke just in front of the cup, settling 8 inches away. With the sun starting to set behind the Pacific, it was hard for him to see.

"It felt good, looked good, and then we were listening for some noise," Woods said.

But he needed those three birdies to offset his mistakes, and the sobering part of his return is that Woods didn't make a putt longer than 4 feet. That was on the second hole, when his approach from the bunker landed 6 feet behind the hole and went over the back into light rough.

He also gave away a shot on the par-5 13th, when he laid up from the rough and hit a wedge that drifted right and went into the bunker. He blasted that out to 3 feet, which was the hard part. And then he missed the short par putt.

Woods made his other two bogeys from greenside bunkers, both times missing 12-foot putts.

He played the par 5s in even par, and didn't give himself any other birdie chances inside 15 feet.

"It's hard to make a lot of birdies when you're not giving yourself any looks, and I didn't do that today," Woods said.

"Tomorrow, hopefully, I'll drive a little better, get my irons obviously a lot closer and we get the better of the two greens tomorrow. So we'll see what happens."

But there was no mistaking his presence.

Meanwhile, Danny Lee has responded to a demotion in the New Zealand golf ranking pecking order by starting strongly at the PGA Tour event in California.

Lee shares 15th place after the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open, having overcome two bogeys and a double bogey in his first six holes.

Seven birdies ensured a solid opening round of three-under 69 at the Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla, four strokes shy of Finau.

Having missed the cut in his last three tour cuts, Lee's world ranking dropped to 125th, leaving him three places below newly-promoted Kiwi No.1 Ryan Fox.

It is Lee's lowest ranking in more than three years, during which time he has held the Kiwi top spot.

His usurper, Fox, is off the pace at the latest European Tour event, shooting a one-under 71 first up at the Dubai Desert Classic.

His cause wasn't helped with a double-bogey on his final hole, the par-four ninth, which left him in a share of 90th.