AUGUSTA, Ga. – Tiger Woods split the fairway with his opening shot Thursday, confidently plucking his tee from the ground before his ball had even landed, and set off with grim-faced determination for a steamy trek around Augusta National.
The rest of his day at the Masters was mostly just grim.
There were two wicked lip-outs on the front side. A pitch shot dumped in a greenside bunker on the back. Some bad luck off the tee at 18, which left him with a painfully awkward stance. And on just about every hole, a pronounced limp — the evidence of the crash on a suburban Los Angeles road just over two years ago that crushed bones in his right leg and ankle.
By the time Woods struggled through the finishing hole, failing to get up and down from another bunker, he had shot 74 — good enough to stay in contention to play the weekend but hardly good enough to actually contend. He has never missed the cut at the Masters as a professional.
“Most of the guys are going low today. This was the day to do it,” Woods said. “Hopefully tomorrow I'll be a little bit better, a little bit sharper, and kind of inch my way through it.”
Or at least hobble through it.
It was the worst opening round for Woods at the Masters since 2005, when he followed a 74 with 65-66-71 to capture the fourth of his five green jackets. Recent history suggests that duplicating that comeback will be tough, though: He shot 78-78 on the weekend last year, and is now a combined 16 over for his last four rounds at Augusta National.
The four consecutive rounds over par is Woods' longest such streak since first driving down Magnolia Lane in 1995.
“Today was the opportune time to get the round under par," he said, "and I didn’t do that.”
The five-time champion had the best view for a couple of golfers who did.
Viktor Hovland used an eagle at the second to propel him to an opening 65, and Xander Schauffele shot 68, on a day that red numbers dominated the scoreboards.
“It's really cool just to be around him,” said Hovland, who was low amateur at the Masters in 2019, when Woods won his most recent green jacket. “He’s been such a huge influence to the game of golf, and obviously watched him hours growing up. And to get to play with him for the first time today was very special, and especially to play this round so well.”
Woods actually outdrove both Hovland and Schauffele at the first, and was cruising along until the third, when he caught a pitch shot high on his club face and left it short of the green. Woods ran his next chip past the hole, missed a slippery downhill putt and walked off with his first bogey of the day.
Then came the lip-outs: a vicious one at the fifth, the same hole on which Woods began using his driver as a walking stick, and another at the seventh, which left him 3 over and searching for some positive vibes.
They came briefly with a birdie at the eighth, only to dissipate when Woods dumped his pitch into the bunker at No. 11 and made bogey. He looked like he might catch momentum again with a long birdie putt at the 15th and an approach stuck close for birdie at the 16th, only to watch a near-perfect drive at the 18th come to rest too close to a fairway bunker.
Woods tried several stances before planting his left foot in the grass, high above him, and digging his right in the sand. He proceeded to send a line drive from there into the greenside bunker, losing his balance and hopping away on his left leg.
“Hop on the left leg is fine," he said. "If I did it on the other one, not so fine.”
Woods splashed out of that bunker, missed the par putt and began his halting walk to the clubhouse to sign his card.
“I didn’t give myself very good looks,” he said. “Need to do a better job of that going forward.”
Indeed, the round was hardly vintage Woods, yet the feel around Augusta National was unmistakably classic.
Patrons stacked four-, five- and sometimes six-deep for a chance to see him, then walked quickly ahead — running being strictly forbidden — to find a prime spot to see him again. They clapped politely when he'd tap in for par, roared like the old days for his three birdies, and showered him with adulation when his round was over.
At one point, after waiting an hour for Woods to come through and then watching him play an approach shot from the fairway right in front of them, one gentleman turned to his buddy and said: “Well, we can go home now.”
Without a few more birdies, and a few less mistakes, that's where Woods will be headed soon, too.
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