Tiger is back at the Masters, and it already feels like a win

Augusta, Ga. (AP) — Tiger Woods playing the Masters again, his shirt as pink as Azalea at Augusta Nationals, will be reason enough to celebrate Thursday.

He felt the same way.

Woods swung his club after good shots and that was enough. He clenched his fist after putting his longest birdie. And then normalcy gave way to reality when he used his nail as a walking stick for his once battered and now weary legs for the final climb towards the 18th green.

Another par saved for 1-under 71, four shots behind Sungjae Im.

But it wasn’t just about a score. Woods was competing in a Major, the first time in 508 days after a car accident nearly 14 months earlier that shattered his right leg. When asked if just being able to play felt like a win, it was very clear. His answer: “Yes.”

“If you had seen how my leg looked where it is now, pictures – few people know; They’ve seen the pictures — to see where I’ve been, to get from there was no easy task,” Woods said.

There is no point in going easy the rest of the way.

With Friday still to come, he would have driven 18 holes at Augusta National for the first time in consecutive days after the crash, which he described as “a lot of snow” in between.

Next to them is a collection of players who have won big, who have won at Augusta, and who have spent the past year honing their game, rather than figuring out how to walk through a hospital bed. And to take pleasure in the simple pleasure of walking.

Im, the 24-year-old known for rarely missing the center of the South Korean club face, initially ran off three straight birdies, recovered from a pair of bogeys with a 12-foot eagle putt on the 13th and Birdie for a late added 5-under 67.

He was one shot ahead of Cameron Smith, playing for the first time since winning the Players Championship a month earlier. The Australian had the most dynamic round of the day with his eight birdies with the mullet, all between a double bogey at the start and end.

“To be honest, those pairs of double bogeys really didn’t have a very bad shot. It’s not like I was scraping it from trees,” Smith said. “Just misunderstood the wind on both wedges. Just left myself in a tough spot. Other than that, it was really solid.”

Smith had his highest score of 67 after 18 holes at the Masters since 2014, and that was to be expected. Even with 2 inches of rain, which softened the course, the front that cleared the clouds provided enough wind to jiggle the nerves at every turn.

Dustin Johnson, who stopped IM and Smith when they won the Masters in November 2020, was 4 under through 10 holes and was ready to present a challenging target with the scoring hole ahead of him. He had to settle for a parse, dropped a shot late and was in the big group on 69.

Also in 69 were former Masters champion Danny Willett, world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler and Joaquin Nieman, who went out for the Eagles at No. 9 and still didn’t get the biggest roar of the round. He was playing with Woods, who listened to him all day.

The crowd was so large that Woods could hardly be seen at the ends as he walked from the clubhouse to Putt Green and then to the first tee, to big cheers at each station, to Amen’s Corner at the end.

“Maybe in the beginning I saw there were a lot of people, but then I was trying to talk to my caddy, and I couldn’t hear anything he was saying,” Neiman said.

The unseen spectator’s return to playing Woods again, and it was a beautiful and roaring wedding. There were pockets of cheers from all around, endless cheers for Augusta National and Woods.

He missed. He remembered her. And he didn’t waste time making a 10-foot putt on the first hole, giving him reason to hope.

“The place was electric,” Woods said. “I haven’t played like this since ’19 when I won because in ’20 we had COVID and we didn’t have anyone here, and I didn’t play last year. So to completely exclude the patrons and To feel that kind of energy was awesome.

He couldn’t feel the same about his feet. He said he was miserable, which he expected, but that he could compete for more than five hours on soft turf and so many ups and downs.

He came within a few feet of an ace on par-3 sixth. He made a 30-foot birdie on par-3 16th, and another hugged the top of the green on par-5 13th for a simple two-putt. His big regret was a pitch that was woefully short on a par-5 eighth, followed by a chip that was too strong and a bad putt.

He dropped another shot from a 4-iron chip on the 14th that went 8 feet.

It was not his best. But after going so long without serious competition, he had a few complaints.

“I’m going to have pain, yeah. That’s just the way,” he said. “And it’s only round one. We have three more to go. There’s a long way to go and lots of shots to play.”

But it was a start, and it felt like a victory. And he was among 17 players in the 90-man field who broke par, and that was the big one.

“I was able to finish in the red,” Woods said. “I’m where I need to be.”

The thousands of spectators who stood a dozen deep in some places, which filled every inch of the grass around Amen Corner, couldn’t agree more.

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