Tough start: Tiger stumbles to 5-over 77 in Dubai

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Tiger Woods walked cautiously from the driving range to the first tee, swung tentatively for the first few holes, got off to a slow start and never recovered during the opening round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on Thursday.

The result was his worst score in 29 rounds at Emirates Golf Club, a 5-over-par 77 that included no birdies, left him 12 strokes behind Sergio Garcia, and almost assuredly will have him looking at plans to leave for home early.

Despite appearing to be uncomfortable, especially early on, Woods said there were no issues with his back.

“No, I wasn’t in pain at all,” he said. “I was just trying to hit shots and I wasn’t doing a very good job. At the end I finally hit some good ones but the damage had already been done. On top of that, I could have hung in there, could have shot something near even par if I would have made some putts, but I made nothing.”

It’s true that Woods fared poorly on the greens, taking 33 putts for the round. His only putt of consequence was a 6-footer on the 18th green after he had hit his approach into the water.

Woods managed to hit 10 of 14 fairways and 11 of 18 greens, numbers that are fine. But he three-putted twice for bogey, didn’t hit enough approach shots close to the hole — and when he did, he missed.

“I probably left about 16 putts short,” he said. “I just couldn’t get the speed of these things, and consequently, it added up to a pretty high number. … I just could not hit the putts hard enough. I left every putt…