Augusta, ca. – As we approach the first tea on Thursday at the Tiger Woods Masters, the sun rises through a narrow opening in the cloudy sky. It immersed that part in a kind of glow. But spotlight is not required.
Every eye on the grounds of the Augusta National Golf Club – as well as millions of others around the world – already felt as if Woods had turned the page, and he returned to a horrible, life-threatening condition 408 days later. Single car accident.
About five hours later, Woods marched to the 18th Fairway with applause, not only acknowledging his successful return to competitive golf, but also acknowledging that he had done so admirably.
In his first professional round in 17 months, Woods hit 71 just below 71 with three birds and two boogie. To be sure, he looked rusty, and many of his usual believable iron shots were without easily accessible greens. He left the tea with his driver and played Augusta National’s Bar 3 under two and Bar 5 on the Eat Bar, which was the opposite of his usual form.
But Woods’ pudding, his greatest strength ever, kept him going again and again. He came out of the 18th hole with a slightly more frightened smile than he had briefly flashed in the first hole.
Although Woods was sometimes out of practice, he seemed tough enough to withstand the misfortune of climbing the many hills of the Augusta National. However, there were signs that he had made concessions to his right leg and foot that had been surgically rebuilt, which now includes a rod, plates and screws. For example, he rarely read puddings near the level of the playing surface, as he squatted behind his golf ball.
In the ninth hole, when Woods left the tea, he whimpered noticeably as if his right foot had landed miserably. Frowned at each of the next several steps. Although Woods made a steady improvement after that, he became more and more lame as the day went on.
90 minutes earlier, Woods had marched confidently into the first tea, where he met with enthusiastic cheers. After tilting his hat, he hit a drive towards the first fairway. But his attitude, like many of the ones he attacked on Thursday, came short. After a normal pitch in the green, Woods faced the kind of boot that no golfer would like in the first green – slippery, 12-foot broken. But he drowned it evenly, and the gallery around the green made a roar.
He was not so sharp in the second hole of the Bar-5, which was usually the place where Woods could trust a bird, otherwise the eagle. But a substandard tee shot led to a bailout, an exceptional chip and a two-foot bar. Three more bars followed as Woods settled into a comfortable rhythm. Then, Woods elevated his tea shot into the air with artistry, scoring from a raised tee on the sixth hole of the Bar-3. After a few long seconds, it turned green and quickly stopped about 18 inches from the hole for an easy bird.
Fans seated around the Augusta National Stadium, where giant white scoreboards were strewn all over the place, saw Woods’ name appear on top of the leaderboard. More roars.
Leaving the sixth green, Woods shrugged his shoulders and closed his mouth – rarely – to hide a smile. An hour after he returned to the competition, competing for the lead in the Masters seemed a bit far-fetched, even for him.
But, starting with the seventh hole, Woods chased after repeated errors to continue with the leaders. For five holes, from seventh to 11th, he wasted quality tee shots when he missed the green with his approach shots.
Woods was saved in parallel with a Nervous pudding in the seventh green, but he did not sink the 8-foot bar puddle into the eighth hole and exited with his first bogey.
In the ninth hole, he moved his drive into the trees on the left side of the fairway before leaving another approach, although he again saved parallel to a clutch puddle. He did the same when the approach to the 11th Green went astray. He had a random two-foot bar in the small, treacherous 12th hole, then turned the Bar-5 into a 13th hole bird after turning green in two strokes. That moved him to a lower position in the round.
Another erratic run into the woods in the next pit brought out the old tiger, who took a furious swipe of the ball over some mammoth pine trees on the way to the green. However, his potter was unable to save him, and he returned to the level of the day with a bogeyman.
Another missed fairway led to a regular parallel to the Bar-5 15th hole, but Woods, as has often done in the past, saved a little play for the Bar-3 16th hole as the 23-foot puddle sank. For the bird. That series sparked Woods’ first animated fist pump of the day.
A round in the 60s was not questionable, but Woods only managed a regular draw in the 17th hole. In the closing hole, another curved driver tracked him down for a while. But the round ended with a boom as he sank the 8-foot pound and won the under-bar round.
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