AUGUSTA, Ga. — The solar emerged by means of a slender opening in a cloud-filled sky as Tiger Woods approached the primary tee on Thursday on the Masters Event. It forged the world in a sort of glow. However the highlight was not wanted.
It already felt like each eye on the grounds at Augusta Nationwide Golf Membership — in addition to hundreds of thousands of others watching around the globe — had turned towards Woods, who was making an inconceivable return to elite golf 408 days after a horrific, probably life-threatening single-vehicle automotive crash.
Roughly 5 hours later, Woods marched up the 18th fairway to resounding applause, not solely an acknowledgment of his profitable return to aggressive golf, but additionally recognition that he had executed so at a more-than-commendable degree.
In his first skilled spherical in 17 months, Woods shot a gritty, plucky one-under-par 71 with three birdies and two bogeys. To make sure, he seemed rusty, and plenty of of his often reliable iron photographs got here up in need of simply reachable greens. He was erratic off the tee along with his driver and performed Augusta Nationwide’s par 3s in two beneath and the par 5s in even par, the reverse of his regular sample.
However Woods’s placing, at all times his biggest energy, repeatedly saved him. He left the 18th gap with a far wider smile than the considerably timid one he had briefly flashed on the primary gap.
Afterward, Woods was grateful, and his regular aggressive self. He was already trying ahead to transferring up the leaderboard because the event continued.
“I’m proper the place I should be,” Woods, who was tied for tenth, stated of his place (Sungjae Im led the sector on Thursday with a five-under 67). Of the 1000’s of followers who flocked to each gap he performed, he stated: “The place was electrical. I’m very fortunate to have this chance to have the ability to play and to have any such reception.”
Whereas Woods certainly seemed a bit off form at instances, he appeared hardy sufficient to resist the duress of strolling up and down Augusta Nationwide’s many hills. There have been, nonetheless, indicators that he was making concessions to his surgically rebuilt proper leg and foot, which now has a rod, plates and screws holding it collectively. He hardly ever, for instance, squatted behind his golf ball as he as soon as did to learn putts near the extent of the taking part in floor.
On the ninth gap, as Woods left the tee, he noticeably winced as his proper leg appeared to land awkwardly. He grimaced by means of every of the following a number of steps. Whereas Woods regained a steadier stride thereafter, he limped increasingly because the day went on.
“The strolling just isn’t simple; it’s troublesome,” he stated. “It’s going to be troublesome for the remainder of my life. That’s simply the way in which it’s, however I’m capable of do it.”
Not one to simply accept a partial victory, Woods nonetheless conceded that simply being at Augusta Nationwide and finishing 18 holes was triumph sufficient. Requested why, he stated: “In case you would have seen how my leg seemed to the place it’s at now — to get from there to right here, it was no simple job.”
Woods started his day with a assured march onto the primary tee, the place he was met with enthusiastic cheers. After tipping his cap, he hammered a drive towards the primary fairway. However his method shot, like many he struck on Thursday, got here up quick. After a mediocre pitch onto the inexperienced, Woods confronted the sort of putt no golfer appreciates on the primary inexperienced — a slippery, breaking 12-footer. However he sank it for par, and the gallery across the inexperienced let loose a roar.
He was not as sharp on the par-5 second gap, which had usually been a spot the place Woods may virtually rely on a birdie, if not an eagle. However an inferior tee shot led to a bailout, an unexceptional chip and a two-putt par. Three extra pars ensued as Woods settled into a cushty rhythm. Then, hitting from an elevated tee on the par-3 sixth gap, Woods artfully powered his tee shot excessive into the air. A couple of lengthy seconds later, it dropped onto the inexperienced and got here to a fast cease roughly 18 inches from the opening for a simple birdie.
Sitting at one beneath par, followers across the Augusta Nationwide grounds, the place the enormous white scoreboards are omnipresent, watched as Woods’s identify appeared close to the highest of leaderboard. Extra roars.
Leaving the sixth inexperienced, Woods shrugged his shoulders impishly and lined his mouth to — barely — conceal a smile. Maybe contending for the lead on the Masters solely an hour after his return to the event appeared a bit far-fetched, even for him.
However, starting with the seventh gap, recurring errors had Woods scrambling to maintain up with the leaders. For 5 holes, from the seventh to the eleventh, he squandered high quality tee photographs when he missed the inexperienced along with his method photographs.
Woods saved par with a nervy putt on the seventh inexperienced, however he didn’t come near sinking an 8-foot par putt on the par-5 eighth gap and exited along with his first bogey of the spherical.
On the ninth gap, he yanked his drive into the timber left of the golf green earlier than leaving one other method quick, although he once more saved par with a clutch putt. He did the identical when his method to the eleventh inexperienced went wayward. He had an uneventful two-putt par on the tiny, treacherous twelfth gap, then birdied the par-5 thirteenth gap after reaching the inexperienced in two strokes. That moved him to 1 beneath par for the spherical.
One other errant drive into the woods on the following gap introduced out the Tiger of outdated as he took a ferocious swipe on the ball to get it over some mammoth pine timber in his path to the inexperienced. His putter, nonetheless, couldn’t save him, and he fell again to even par for the day with a bogey.
One other missed fairway led to a routine par on the par-5 fifteenth gap, however Woods, as he has so typically prior to now, saved a bit drama for the par-3 sixteenth gap as he sank a twisting, uphill 23-foot putt for birdie. That sequence additionally prompted Woods’s first animated fist pump of the day.
A spherical within the 60s was not out of the query, however Woods managed solely a routine par on the seventeenth gap. On the closing gap, yet one more crooked drive derailed him momentarily. However the spherical completed with a flourish as he recovered to sink an 8-foot putt and safe an under-par spherical.
Leaving the ultimate gap, Woods, a five-time Masters champion, appeared to be virtually giving the remainder of the sector a warning.
“We’ve acquired an extended method to go,” he stated of the event. “This golf course goes to alter dramatically — cooler, drier, windier. It’s going to get much more troublesome.”