Lots of ups, some downs for Tiger Woods on his first lap

Tiger Woods, in his first round of competition since his car accident 14 months ago, begins his hunt for a sixth Green Jacket with a 1-under 71

There were fist pumps and wild lip outs, powerful swings and misjudged chipshots, times when Tiger Woods looked his best and other times when he looked just like a man who hasn’t played a competitive tournament in 508 days had played.

Everything that happened Thursday at Augusta National added up to a round of 16 under-71 for the five-time champion, who miraculously returned to the Masters just 14 months after a near-fatal car accident.

Woods had been absent from the tour since the Masters in November 2020, but he has clearly not been forgotten. The eyes of the vast gallery of patrons were glued to him as he hit the tee alongside Louis Oosthuizen and Joaquin Niemann at 11:04 ET. On the first hole, after turning his drive to the right, Woods showed he didn’t feel nervous as he calmly rolled in a 10-foot putt to save par.

And that spectacular comeback, perhaps the most unlikely of a career full of comebacks, was underway. Woods parried his first four holes and looked like he had his first birdie when his putt rolled toward the hole on the fifth. But it overcame, the loud groans of the guests echoing around Augusta National. He made up for it on the par 3 sixth hole by an approach of two feet. This time he finished the birdie attempt.

Woods, who smashed that course 25 years ago, seemed reluctant to try. He was content to take out a fairway wood off the tee and keep the ball in play. He averaged 271 yards from the tee and hit seven of 14 fairways. On the par-5 13, he went with a 3-wood and hit a beautifully sculpted right-to-left tee shot that ended safely in the fairway. From there, he was able to hit the green and two putts to birdie, making him a one-under for the round.

The highlight, however, came on the 16th, the scene of arguably the most memorable recording of his career. He left his approach on the par-3 at the right level, but 29 feet away, played the right-to-left breaking putt perfectly and watched it go to the center of the cup. The patented fist pump, which a year ago looked like it would never see again on Augusta National, was back.

Woods’ round wasn’t all positive, however. On the par-five eighth, he missed his third shot just short of the green before teeing off 9 feet behind the cup and making his first bogey of the round. And on the 14th, after a big tear from the pine straw across the green, he let his chip miss the hole again and missed the putt for par.

Tiger Woods in a solid position at The Masters after 18 holes

He admitted afterwards that he didn’t feel right warming up on the practice court, but once he got his hands on a racquet again he was back where he belonged. “As my father said, did you complete your task? did you warm up I said yes, now go play. And that’s exactly what I did,” he told CBS’ Michael Eaves in Butler Cabin after his lap. “Let’s just go and get it done. You know where to put it. Execute every shot… I’m exactly where I need to be for the day to finish in the red.”

Woods showed no signs of the debilitating leg injury that kept him in a hospital bed for months last year. He swung freely and easily, his pace the same as ever. His return completely removed all other competitors to mere spectators; few at the Augusta National paid any heed to the fact that Cameron Smith and Scottie Scheffler, the two hottest players in the world entering the tournament, rose to the top of the leaderboard on Thursday.

The first round of the 86th Masters was all about Woods and his return. Just a few weeks ago, it seemed unlikely, impossible, when scenes of his mangled Genesis SUV flashed across TV screens last February. But if he showed anything on Thursday, it was this: never underestimate golf’s greatest champion. Lots of ups, some downs for Tiger Woods on his first lap

John Verrall

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