Tiger Woods had two options as he stood in the pine straw along the left side of the 14th fairway during the first round of the Masters on Thursday at Augusta National Golf Club: punch out his ball after a poor tee shot or rip an iron and try to reach the green.
There would have been no doubt about what Woods would do two years ago before he nearly lost his right leg in a car accident. But, when doctors used a rod, plates, and screws to piece together his severely broken right leg, foot, and ankle, there had to be some doubt in the 15-time major champion’s mind.
Would Woods be able to walk through the pine straw? By swinging that hard, would he be exerting too much torque on his surgically repaired right leg?
Woods stated, “I was going to pull it off.” “There was a void in my life. I had a window in my room. It was my intention to strike it.”
Woods hit the shot, and his ball landed just past the green’s back edge. He dropped back to even par after bogeying the par-4 14th hole. But that shot, more than any other for Woods on Thursday, demonstrated how far he’s come in the 14 months since his accident.
And it demonstrated that Woods, 46, maybe a strong chance for his sixth green jacket this weekend, tying him with Jack Nicklaus for the most ever.
Woods fired 1-under 71 in the opening round, his first competitive round in 509 days. After finishing his round, he was three strokes behind Cameron Smith; Sungjae Im eventually grabbed the Day 1 lead at 5 under.
Woods said, “I’m only three back.” “We still have a long way to go. This golf course is about to undergo a significant transformation: it will become cooler, drier, and windier. Out there, you can hear the SubAirs. This golf course will change, and it will become much more challenging.”
It was Woods’ first tournament round since sustaining significant injuries in a car accident outside Los Angeles on February 23, 2021. He hadn’t competed in an official tournament since November 2020, when he tied for 38th at the Masters, which was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic later that year.
“I’m as sore as I anticipated to be,” Woods added, “but it was wonderful.” “It’ll be a different story come game time, as I’ve been telling the squad all week. My adrenaline will start pumping. I’ll retreat into my own little universe and get down to business. It’s all about the preparation we’ve put in to be able to go.”
With a 29-foot birdie putt on the par-3 16th hole, Woods moved to 1 under par. He lifted his right fist to the fans as the ball fell into the hole.
For Woods, it was a round of ups and downs. He made eight of fourteen fairways and nine of eighteen greens. He only needed 27 putts total, including 13 on the first nine. He hit the ball 283.3 yards on average off the tee, with four of his drives going left. On the four par-5 holes, he was even par, while on the four par-3s, he was two-under.
“It’s fantastic to finish in the red today after such a lengthy break and not being in competitive golf,” Woods remarked. “On a lot of these pins, I know where to strike it, and I miss in the right locations, giving myself ideal angles. That’s what I did all day, and I was able to make a couple putts and wind up in the red, which is where I am today.”
Thousands of fans watched Woods and his playing partners, Joaquin Niemann and Louis Oosthuizen, just as they had earlier this week during practice rounds. Woods’ birdie putts on the sixth, 13th, and 16th holes elicited roars that had been missing at Augusta National over the previous two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s something I’m really fortunate to be able to play, and not only that, to be able to play in the Masters and get this kind of reaction,” Woods said. “I mean, the atmosphere was electrifying. Because we had COVID and no one here in ’20, and I didn’t participate last year [when attendance was limited], I hadn’t performed like this since I won in ’19. So having all of the patrons present and feeling that kind of energy was fantastic.”
Woods, who last won at Augusta National in 2019, is off to a good start. Only twice in his previous 23 Masters outings had Woods broken 70 in the first round. His first-round score of 71.8 is a whole shot higher than his second-round score and two strokes higher than his third-round score.
Those numbers, of course, refer to the rounds Woods played prior to his vehicle accident. Whether he contends for a sixth green jacket will be determined by his ability to bounce back and his stamina.
“Yes, I’m going to be sore,” Woods admitted. “That’s just how things are…. There is only one round in this game. We still have three more to go. There is still a long way to go and many shots to be taken.”