Tiger Woods doesn’t disappoint on his big return in Masters

Cameron Smith, who is trying to join Woods as the only golfer to win The Players Championship and The Masters in the same year, shone once again at Augusta National as he started with a double-bogey 6 and also finished with one but still managed to card to four-under 68.

Even the Australian, though, and world No 1 Scottie Scheffler, too, after an equally-plasing 69 wouldn’t disagree that the headlines in the first circuit of the season’s opening major belonged to five-time Augusta National winner Woods.

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Playing in his first full-blown event since almost losing his right leg in a car crash in Los Angeles 14 months ago, the 46-year-old well and truly proved that he wasn’t being fanciful in believing he could contend again in a major.

Bob MacIntyre plays his shot from the first tee during the first round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images.

Cheered every step of the way by a small army of patrons, he produced the sort of polished performance that was the trademark of Woods in his prime in posting a one-under 71.

Apart from a couple of shots, it wasn’t spectacular, but, boy, was it effective. And, on this evidence, don’t be surprised if he’s hanging around the top of the leaderboard heading into that back nine on Sunday.

Helped by an eagle-2 at the ninth in the same group as Woods, Chile’s Joaquin Niemann signed for a 69, as did Danny Willett on a day when the Englishman was inspired by winning here in 2016.

Even Mother Nature obliged for Tiger’s eagerly-anticipated return. Play had been delayed by half an hour by the tail end of thunderstorms that had been in the area for around 12 hours – two inches of rain fell in that time – but the sun was out by the time Woods stepped on to the first tee in a bright pink top.

Tiger Woods reacts after making birdie on the 13th green during the first round of The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images.

He’d been given the okay by Nike, his long-time shoe and clothing company, to wear shoes this week that give his leg more support, but it looked as though they’d come up with a cunning plan to get attention on the top half of his body.

The roar when Woods was announced by the starter was probably heard on Broad Street, the main thoroughfare in Augusta, and he wasted no time showing the world that he was indeed here to contend and not just to make up the numbers.

No-one has holed more clutch putts than Woods in his career and a nine-footer to save par at the first showed that nothing has changed in that respect during his latest absence. At the fifth, Woods thought he was walking in a five-footer for birdie only to see it cruelly lip out.

The first of those huge roars created by Woods so often round here, though, came at the next and it was an almighty one, rightly so as his tee shot at the short sixth ended up two feet from the hole.

Cameron Smith walks to the 13th green during the first round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images.

While you’ve sometimes wondered if people think otherwise, Woods is human, as he showed when giving that shot back two holes later after needing four shots from the side of the green to finish off the job on his first journey of the week up the par-5 eighth.

There was then a spot of tree trouble off the tee at the ninth, but a testing par putt saved his bacon there before moving into red figures again at the 13th, where an eagle attempt was dead on line only to come up agonizingly short.

Helped by holing a 25-foot birdie putt at the 16th then making a great up and down at the last, it was a great day’s work from the 15-time major winner.

Smith had already caught the eye around here, having made the cut in all five of his previous appearances, including two top 10s and a runner-up finish in 2020. On the back of two wins this year, he was widely tipped as being one of the men to beat this week.

His odds might have stretched after catching the lip of a fairway bunker at the first, but what a response to that early setback. The only player in the event’s history to shoot in the 60s in all four rounds, having achieved that feat two years ago, he covered 12 holes from the fifth in a splendid eight-under before taking some shine off that run with a 6 to finish .

Bob MacIntyre had been passing the Oak Tree, the meeting place of the rich and famous here, when Woods was about to head out. When the Scot stepped on to the first tee himself just over an hour later, he took up where he’d left off when making his promising debut 12 months ago.

Having birdied the 72nd hole on that occasion to book his return ticket by securing a share of 12th spot, he made a good fist of trying to start in the same vein this time around, lipping out from 15 feet following two rock-solid shots to get his day up and running.

They say it takes time to learn Augusta National, but MacIntyre looks to have figured it out almost straight away. For most of the front nine, he always seemed to be in positions where he could limit any potential damage.

His first birdie of the day was courtesy of a two-putt from a safe spot in the heart of the second green while a run of seven pars to follow were mainly the result of more mature play. In saying that, he got up and down from sand at the fourth and overcame being deep in the trees on the right at the ninth to save par there.

A pulled approach at the tenth led to a first dropped shot, which was followed by a double-bogey 6 as he came up a tad short with his approach that kicked left into the pond. The momentum he’d worked hard to maintain was gone in a flash, but that’s Augusta National for you.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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