Tiger Woods returns with one-under par round at the Masters

Tiger Woods returns with one under par round at the Masters

With thousands of spectators watching his every move Thursday morning, Tiger Woods emerged from the Augusta National clubhouse, closed his eyes, took a deep breath as if to brace himself, opened his eyes and stepped into the next chapter of his legendary career.

The five-time Masters winner began his pursuit of his sixth green jacket under circumstances almost beyond belief.

He’s 14 months removed from a catastrophic rollover car accident that threatened his ability to walk, yet somehow he remained a factor on the first day of the storied tournament.

Playing conservatively and frequently saving par with his putter — including a 10-footer on 18 — Woods shot a one-under-par 71 with 13 pars, two bogeys and three birdies. When he finished his round, he was three shots off the lead.

He got a break with his tee shot on No. 18, which clipped some branches on the left and wound up in wet pine straw. Because he was in standing water, he was able to move the ball back — making the drive a mere 193 yards — but almost into the fairway. He didn’t reach the green on his next shot, but spun his third in prime position to make birdie, drawing loud cheers from the spectators ringing the green.

The round was Woods’ first competitive one in 509 days, since the 2020 Masters that was postponed until November because of the pandemic. He played with Louis Oosthuizen and Joaquín Niemann, who shot 69 for his best career round at Augusta.

So far, it’s Australia’s Cameron Smith who has turned in the round of the day. He recovered from a double-bogey on No. 1 with eight birdies to claim an early advantage atop the leaderboard at 6 under par. But he bookended his round with a double-bogey on 18 to finish with a four-under 68. That tied the lowest score at the Masters in 25 years for a player who made two double-bogeys.

Woods, 46, said during the week that his challenge wouldn’t be ball-striking or putting but walking the undulating course on his rebuilt legs. He looked slightly stiff but not overly uncomfortable, although he did briefly clutch at his back after his errant tee shot on No. 9.

The day started with drizzle, the last vestiges of the thunderstorms that interrupted practice rounds on Tuesday and Wednesday. By the early afternoon, when Woods was on the back nine, blue skies and sunshine had returned. The breeze picked up, though, making those into-the-wind holes especially challenging.

Woods made par on his first five holes, then dropped to one under with a birdie on No. 6, a par-3 hole that he nearly aced. He gave that stroke back on No. 8, however, coming up short of the green on his third shot, running his fourth past the hole, then two-putting for bogey on his way back.

At one point, he missed five greens in a row but was able to scramble with his putting.

A birdie on the par-5 13th put Woods back in red numbers but was right back at even par with a bogey on 14.

Just before 11 a.m., caddie Joe LaCava emerged from the clubhouse carrying Woods’ black and green Monster Energy Drink bag with the distinctive Tiger headcovers. This was in a roped-off area under the famous oak tree with patrons — what they call spectators here — crowding outside the ropes and hoping for a glimpse at Tiger.

It had rained for the past two days, and drizzled again Thursday morning, so the grass outside the clubhouse was slick and even treacherous. Groundskeeper carts traversed the area in the predawn hours, distributing coarse green sand as if salting the roads during a snowstorm. Augusta National is hillier than it looks on TV, so it’s easy to lose your footing and take a tumble.

After LaCava came out of the clubhouse, everyone knew that Woods was soon to follow. The place fell silent, and people in the restricted area — Augusta members, guests and media — wordlessly formed a sort of wedding receiving line for Woods to walk through when he came out of the clubhouse and made his way to the first tee.

Tiger Woods pumps his fist after a birdie putt on the 16th green during the first round of the Masters on Thursday.

(David J. Phillip / Associated Press)

Suddenly, the clubhouse door swung open and out stepped Woods, in black pants with a fuchsia shirt. When he saw the receiving line and crowd waiting outside the ropes, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. It was almost as if he were preparing himself to cliff dive or jump in an ice bath.

The crowd broke into applause with several people shouting “Tiger!” But the stillness in the air was something to behold. And once he walked through, it was as if everything came back to life and the world started spinning again. The receiving line dissipated and people resumed chatting away.

Among the Augusta members making the social rounds under the famous oak tree in their green jackets were Roger Goodell, Lynn Swann, Pat Haden and Heidi Ueberroth. Joe Buck, who isn’t a member but was taking it all in, was there as well.

Tiger was greeted with cheers and applause on the first tee, with the hole lined with several layers of patrons all the way to the green. He hit his tee shot a little to the right and behind a bunker. The round had begun.

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