AUGUSTA, Georgia – Tiger Woods returned to the acid test of Augusta National on Thursday with a one-over par 73 in the first round of the Masters, declaring the experience “awesome”.
The 42-year-old, who calls himself a walking miracle less than 12 months after spinal fusion surgery, produced a pair of top-five finishes on the PGA Tour to fuel expectations that he could seize a fifth green jacket – and a 15th major title – this week.
But Woods endured his share of frustrations in his first Masters appearance since 2015 – an absence of a total of 1 089 days.
“This course will test you,” Woods said. “I haven’t played shots like this for a while.”
The 14-time major winner thrilled an enthusiastic gallery with a 10-foot birdie at the third.
But he followed with back-to-back bogeys at the fourth and fifth as he made the turn one-over.
There was more trouble lurking around Amen Corner, where Woods was right off the tee at 11 and his recovery effort squirted right as well en route to another bogey.
A dip in Rae’s Creek at 12 cost him a shot, but he pulled strokes back at 14 and 16, and produced two crisp tee shots at 17 and 18 as he capped his round with a pair of pars.
Woods, who carded a first-round 74 in 2005 on the way to his most recent Masters title, was five off the pace set by Sweden’s Henrik Stenson and American Charlie Hoffman when he walked off the course.
Former champion Zach Johnson, Austrian Bernd Wiesberger and Australian Marc Leishman were the leaders in the clubhouse on two-under 70.
Leishman, who played alongside Woods, thrived in the spotlight, moving to four-under thorugh 13 holes before finding the water at the par-five 15th on the way to a double bogey.
“We had a good day out there,” Leishman said. “It’s nice playing in front of big crowds, on a stage like this, on a day like today.
“I looked at it as a positive and preparation for later in the week,” he said of playing with Woods. “Hopefully we’re both there on Sunday afternoon.”
While Tiger has drawn the lion’s share of attention this week, the field is packed with an array of in-form players.
An eagle at the par-five eighth took 2015 winner Jordan Spieth to two-under at the turn.
Five-time major-winner Phil Mickelson, his sights set on a fourth green jacket at the age of 47, was at even par through nine holes.
Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, seeking to complete a career Grand Slam with a first Masters title, was one-under through eight.
Spain’s Sergio Garcia, however, endured a nightmare start in his bid to join Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus as the only players to successfully defend the Masters crown.
The last time Sergio played that hole he made an eagle 3.
Golf is a fickle game. pic.twitter.com/wDMtRzzNa4
Garcia matched the most strokes needed on any hole in Masters history with his 13 at the par-five 15th – where he hit five consecutive balls in the water.
Tommy Nakajima at the par-five 13th in 1978 and Tom Weiskopf in 1980 on the par-three 12th have also seen 13s on their Masters scorecards.
Garcia signed for a nine-over par 81 – tied with amateur Matt Parziale, the Massachusetts firefighter who gained a Masters berth with a win in the Mid-Amateur championship.