hile Tiger Woods insisted earlier in the week that he could win the Masters this week, few thought that a realistic target on his return to top-level golf.
He would certainly have won some people over with his first-round display though, as the 46-year-old shot a one-under-par 71 to put himself in a great position after 18 holes at Augusta National.
Scoring on the whole was difficult, with the course playing long and enough wind in the air to get the players’ attention.
In his first top-level tournament since the 2020 Masters, and first since a horrific car accident 14 months ago, Woods carded three birdies and two bogeys at a course he knows better than most. It looks set to leave him just outside the top-ten after the first round.
“I did not have a very good warm-up at all, I hit it awful,” Woods told ESPN.
“But as the round built I was able to get into the red, made two stupid mistakes at eight but fought back to be in the red for the day I am right where I need to be.”
Woods admitted he had been “saving” his body during his limited pre-tournament practice following the severe injuries suffered in his car accident last year, adding: “I came up here as a test run and was able to play 27 holes and I felt good.
“The whole idea was to keep pushing but keep recovering. That’s the hard part every night. I’ve been doing that, my team has been incredible. I figured once the adrenalin kicks in and I get fired up I should be able to handle my business.”
Woods holed from 10 feet for par on the first and, after unfortunately lipping out on the fifth, hit a superb tee shot to two feet on the next to set up a tap-in birdie.
The 46-year-old bogeyed the par-five eighth after needing four to get down from 50 yards short of the green, but saved par on the next after a pulled drive into the trees and an approach which rolled back off the green, prompting a cry of “F*** off” from the five-time Masters champion.
A two-putt birdie on the par-five 13th briefly got Woods back into red figures, only for him to promptly bogey the next despite a brilliant escape from the pines following a terrible drive.
Woods, who was unable to squat down fully to read putts, still holed from 30 feet for birdie on the 16th and brilliantly saved par on the last after a pulled drive which struck a tree and left him 270 yards to the pin.
He’ll return on Friday with an afternoon tee time, looking for more of the same to put himself right in the thick of things heading into the weekend.
Additional reporting by PA Sport.