AUGUSTA, Ga. — The sun emerged through a narrow opening in a cloud-filled sky as Tiger Woods approached the primary tee on Thursday on the Masters Tournament. It solid the realm in a sort of glow. However the highlight was not needed.
It already felt like every eye on the grounds at Augusta National Golf Club — in addition to hundreds of thousands of others watching all over the world — had turned toward Woods, who was making an improbable return to elite golf 408 days after a horrific, potentially life-threatening single-vehicle automotive crash.
Roughly five hours later, Woods marched up the 18th fairway to resounding applause, not only an acknowledgment of his successful return to competitive golf, but additionally recognition that he had done so at a more-than-commendable level.
In his first skilled round in 17 months, Woods shot a gritty, plucky one-under-par 71 with three birdies and two bogeys. To ensure, he looked rusty, and plenty of of his often dependable iron shots got here up in need of easily reachable greens. He was erratic off the tee together with his driver and played Augusta National’s par 3s in two under and the par 5s in even par, the reverse of his usual pattern.
But Woods’s putting, at all times his biggest strength, repeatedly saved him. He left the 18th hole with a far wider smile than the somewhat timid one he had briefly flashed on the primary hole.
Afterward, Woods was thankful, and his usual competitive self. He was already looking forward to moving up the leaderboard because the tournament continued.
“I’m right where I have to be,” Woods, who was tied for tenth, said of his position (Sungjae Im led the sphere on Thursday with a five-under 67). Of the 1000’s of fans who flocked to each hole he played, he said: “The place was electric. I’m very lucky to have this chance to have the option to play and to have this sort of reception.”
While Woods indeed looked a bit off form at times, he seemed hardy enough to face up to the duress of walking up and down Augusta National’s many hills. There have been, nonetheless, signs that he was making concessions to his surgically rebuilt right leg and foot, which now has a rod, plates and screws holding it together. He rarely, for instance, squatted behind his golf ball as he once did to read putts near the extent of the playing surface.
On the ninth hole, as Woods left the tee, he noticeably winced as his right leg appeared to land awkwardly. He grimaced through each of the following several steps. While Woods regained a steadier stride thereafter, he limped an increasing number of because the day went on.
“The walking just isn’t easy; it’s difficult,” he said. “It’s going to be difficult for the remaining of my life. That’s just the best way it’s, but I’m capable of do it.”
Not one to just accept a partial victory, Woods nonetheless conceded that just being at Augusta National and completing 18 holes was triumph enough. Asked why, he said: “For those who would have seen how my leg looked to where it’s at now — to get from there to here, it was no easy task.”
Woods began his day with a confident march onto the primary tee, where he was met with enthusiastic cheers. After tipping his cap, he hammered a drive toward the primary fairway. But his approach shot, like many he struck on Thursday, got here up short. After a mediocre pitch onto the green, Woods faced the sort of putt no golfer appreciates on the primary green — a slippery, breaking 12-footer. But he sank it for par, and the gallery across the green set free a roar.
He was not as sharp on the par-5 second hole, which had typically been a spot where Woods could almost count on a birdie, if not an eagle. But an inferior tee shot led to a bailout, an unexceptional chip and a two-putt par. Three more pars ensued as Woods settled into a cushty rhythm. Then, hitting from an elevated tee on the par-3 sixth hole, Woods artfully powered his tee shot high into the air. A number of long seconds later, it dropped onto the green and got here to a fast stop roughly 18 inches from the outlet for a simple birdie.
Fans across the Augusta National grounds, where the enormous white scoreboards are omnipresent, watched as Woods’s name appeared near the highest of leaderboard at one under par. More roars.
Leaving the sixth green, Woods shrugged his shoulders impishly and covered his mouth to — barely — conceal a smile. Perhaps contending for the lead on the Masters only an hour after his return to the tournament seemed a bit far-fetched, even for him.
But, starting with the seventh hole, recurring errors had Woods scrambling to maintain up with the leaders. For five holes, from the seventh to the eleventh, he squandered quality tee shots when he missed the green together with his approach shots.
Woods saved par with a nervy putt on the seventh green, but he didn’t come near sinking an 8-foot par putt on the par-5 eighth hole and exited together with his first bogey of the round.
On the ninth hole, he yanked his drive into the trees left of the golf green before leaving one other approach short, though he again saved par with a clutch putt. He did the identical when his approach to the eleventh green went wayward. He had an uneventful two-putt par on the tiny, treacherous twelfth hole, then birdied the par-5 thirteenth hole after reaching the green in two strokes. That moved him to 1 under par for the round.
One other errant drive into the woods on the following hole brought out the Tiger of old as he took a ferocious swipe on the ball to get it over some mammoth pine trees in his path to the green. His putter, nonetheless, couldn’t save him, and he fell back to even par for the day with a bogey.
One other missed fairway led to a routine par on the par-5 fifteenth hole, but Woods, as he has so often prior to now, saved a bit drama for the par-3 sixteenth hole as he sank a twisting, uphill 23-foot putt for birdie. That sequence also prompted Woods’s first animated fist pump of the day.
A round within the 60s was not out of the query, but Woods managed only a routine par on the seventeenth hole. On the closing hole, one more crooked drive derailed him momentarily. However the round finished with a flourish as he recovered to sink an 8-foot putt and secure an under-par round.
Leaving the ultimate hole, Woods, a five-time Masters champion, gave the impression to be almost giving the remaining of the sphere a warning.
“We’ve got a protracted solution to go,” he said of the tournament. “This golf course goes to alter dramatically — cooler, drier, windier. It’s going to get loads tougher.”