Tiger on the prowl after opening 71 in Masters return

Peter Finnan
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Tiger on the prowl after opening 71 in Masters return

Tiger Woods waves to the crowd while walking off the 18th green after finishing his round during the first round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 07, 2022 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Tiger Woods announced his return to competitive golf with a one-under 71 in the opening round of the Masters in textbook Tiger fashion. His first round since the final round of the 2020 Masters 508 days ago and it’s like he never went away.

Fans and players alike didn’t know what to expect as the hype reached fever pitch throughout the week while some doubted if Tiger had the endurance or sharpness to hold his own competitively. In the case of Schrodinger’s cat, this cat is very much alive and he’s lurking waiting to pounce over the weekend.

Tiger felt his way into the round with four battling pars after labouring up the first and third holes and he put his timid start down to a poor warm-up.

“Well, I did not have a very good warm-up at all. I hit it awful,” said Tiger. “As my dad said, did you accomplish the task? Did you warm up? Yes. Now go play. And that’s exactly what I did. I blocked it out and I felt I’m warm, go play let’s just get it done, you know where to put it, execute each shot and you know, as the round built and I was able to get into the red.”

He soon lit the touch-paper with a dart on the 5th. The birdie putt looked destined for the bottom of the cup but just as Tiger was on the prowl the left lip coughed up the ball denying him his first birdie at the 5th since 2005. Still, it was a sighter, and the first Tiger roar of the day was only moments away.

Woods nearly sent the crowd into delirium when his approach to the par-3 6th almost went in for a hole-in-one. A kick-in birdie set the wheels in motion, and it took Tiger to six-under for his last twelve holes at Augusta (a lot has gone on in between).

If there were any doubts about his short game, Tiger answered that with a delicious pitch from short of the 7th green to get up and down for a par.

If there was a weakness it was with the big stick, old habits die hard. But after he was in position A in two on the par-5 8th he took four to get down from right of the green and his first dropped shot of the week was a clumsy six.

Having turned in level, a two-putt birdie on 13 brought him back to red figures before he found the trees with a severe left hook on the 14th. Having played a remarkable recovery shot to find the back edge of the green Woods carded another clumsy bogey as he failed to save his par from a good position.

The 15-time major champion hacked his way down the 15th but settled for his par before he rolled back the years with a birdie two on 16 and a fist pump to match. He might not admit it, but Tiger was enjoying every minute of his round.

The five-time Masters champion was unlucky not to birdie the 17th and after another severe pull hook off the 18th tee, Tiger had one more trick up his sleeve and he brought the house down with a superb par save to finish the day in red figures.

A gorgeous wedge set up a six-foot par putt and naturally, he drilled it in the back of the cup. Queue a standing ovation and a roar of anticipation for what might come over the next 54 holes.

“I made two stupid mistakes at 8 back to back. Loss of concentration a little bit there, but I fought back and for the day to end up in the red. I’m right where I need to be.”

Tiger is in this tournament, and you wouldn’t dare rule him out despite the fact he stood on the first tee not knowing how his game was going to hold up after so long away from the game and a more conservative approach to his practice rounds. Woods had not been bending down to read putts in practice and he was only able to crouch halfway down on Thursday.

“Well, I’ve been saving it. That’s the thing you know I came up here as a test run to see if I could and I was able to play as I said in a press conference, the 27 holes because we went and played the par-three course and you know I felt good.

“The whole idea was to keep pushing but keep recovering and you know that’s the hard part is you have every night to recover and I’ve been doing that. My team’s been incredible, getting me ready, and I figured once the adrenaline kicks in and we get fired up and I get into my little world, I should be able to handle business,” he added.

Amazingly, his playing partner Louis Oosthuizen who has two seconds and two third-place finishes in his last five major championships was comprehensively beaten by a player who hasn’t played in over 500 days and looked destined to never play golf again.

Freakish, only Tiger could make the impossible possible.

A remarkable comeback considering his right leg was completely shattered in the aftermath of that horrifying car accident 14 months ago and Woods gave an indication as to what he is going through just to compete this week.

“Lots of ice,” Woods chuckled when asked how he would spend his time before his afternoon tee time on Friday.

Doubt Tiger Woods at your peril.

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