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Woodland 'proud' of first round since brain surgery

Woodland 'proud' of first round since brain surgery

Having played in 340 PGA Tour events, the first-tee announcement is usually a formality for Gary Woodland.

But Thursday was different.

“A little more emotional than I thought I was going to be. Took an extra deep breath, hearing Topeka, Kansas, hearing my name called,” Woodland said. “There was a time when I didn't know if that was going to be called again, so it got me a little more than I thought it was going to.”

Woodland made his return to competition in the opening round of the Sony Open in Hawaii, his first PGA Tour event since undergoing surgery in September to remove the majority of a brain lesion.

“Probably the happiest I've ever been shooting over par, tell you that,” Woodland said after his 1-over 71. “At the end of the day, the goal this week was to see how I was mentally, and I was really, really good.”

Woodland detailed on Tuesday the harrowing journey he endured – including a constant fear of death – leading to his surgery. He hadn’t played on Tour since the Wyndham Championship in August.

On Thursday at Waialae Country Club, the former U.S. Open champion managed to par his opening hole – the par-4 10th – before making three bogeys and turning in 3-over 38.

“It was pretty tough out there. Been here nine times. This was one of the hardest rounds I've ever had here. And got off to a rough start. I was excited and was doing a lot of breathing, trying to slow everything down because I was moving fast,” he said.

“I settled in, especially the last nine holes, and played really, really well.”

The four-time PGA Tour winner – most recently, his major triumph at Pebble Beach in 2019 – didn’t drop a shot over his inward half, making two birdies along the way.

“I've done a lot of work the last six weeks but it's different out here. I was rusty. Hit some poor chip shots. Hit good putts. Speed was a little off. Haven't taken many five-month breaks, and that was definitely a little more difficult than I expected,” he said.

Woodland is currently nine shots off the lead and looking to play his way into the weekend. But, more importantly, he’s back on the course, healthy and, even if nervous, free of fear.

“A lot to build on and, like I said, I'm excited,” he said. “The energy stayed up. Focus stayed up. A lot to be proud of.”