On a cool, crisp Thursday morning in Augusta, Georgia, the grass looked greener, the birds sang sweeter, the flowers let forth brighter colors and golf’s greatest active major champion was back at The Masters.
Augusta National was packed early. Tiger Woods was back after two years. The talking heads told everyone he looks better than ever, is hitting it better than ever, putting better than ever and has a short game back in order that had a lot of folks convinced that he might even be the man to beat this week at the 82nd playing of The Masters.
They lined the first hole, at least 10 deep and greeted him with a four-time champion’s cheer.
We’ll let the 14-time major champ describe his first tee shot for you:
“Not exactly the best shot. I pulled a three-wood.”
Pulled it pretty far left, into the woods, on the pine straw and he then proceeded to work his way to an opening par.
It really set the tone in a lot of ways.
So did the second hole.
Woods smashed hit tee shot with driver dead-center-perfect, leaving him just 219-yards for his second to the par five. He found the front right bunker, came off that shot and gave it the old foot stomp to show his disapproval. He got it to 14-feet but missed the birdie and that, ladies and gentlemen, would set the stage for his day’s work on the four par fives at Augusta National, holes he has played a whopping 142 strokes under par during his years at The Masters.
His only front nine birdie came at the short third where he went into full attack mode with a driver that got him within 35 yards of the front of the green. He pitched to 10 feet and made a great birdie putt. At 11:33 a.m., Tiger Woods was in red numbers for the first time.
He didn’t stay there long. Got out of position in the front bunker at the par three fourth. Made bogey, then another at five when he pulled another three-wood tee shot way left, down by the huge bunker. Another bogey as a result.
A great iron shot at six gave him just nine-feet for birdie. Missed that one.
Routine par at seven, huge drive in eight fairway but an over-hooked second cost him. An indifferent third from short left and a 30-foot birdie putt kept him over par. Two par fives, no birdies.
Played defense at nine from the left rough and turned in one-over.
There was opportunity on the back nine, but plenty of danger as well.
Woods got lucky at 10 when he missed the “bogey bunker” right of the green, barely, and saved par.
But he got “Amened” at Amen Corner.
At 11 he hit a wild right tee shot, screaming “get way right, get way right.” It did but his recovery wasn’t good and it left him letting loose one of those old Tiger expletives.
He took bogey there then made his worst mistake of the day at 12. His nine-iron came up short and right and he found the Jordan Spieth burial ground — Rae’s Creek. Seemed like Woods took forever to decide where to drop, looking long, then medium and he finally decided on short and right of the hole. His chip barely found the fringe and he saved himself once again with a 14-footer for bogey.
A blocked tee shot off 13 tee completed the Tiger mugging at Amen Corner. He wouldn’t make birdie there either. He he fought back with one from nine feet at 14 but refused to help himself by hitting another one wide right off 15 tee. Whatever happened to that Freddie Couples “he’s hitting it long and straight” observation? Woods made par at 15 to complete his zero-for-four on the par fives to open his week.
At 16 he hit an eight-iron to 14 feet and made that for a nice birdie and that’s how his day would finish — one-over.
Seventy-three, tied for 29th.
“It was interesting,” Woods said of his five hours work. “It was up-and-down for me. I played the par fives very sloppily.”
Woods told us his ball striking was better than his score. “This course takes it out of you. This course will test you,” he added.
It did test him and tested him to the max.
Those who thought he could win this week will tell you he should have shot 69. Those who don’t will tell you he could have shot 75.
Reality was 73 but it didn’t matter, really.
He was back, finally, and how did it feel Tiger?