TIGER Woods opened with a birdie at Augusta National yesterday as he played his first round in public since taking a self-imposed break after being afflicted with the chipping yips.
Playing a practice round for this week’s Masters with Mark O’Meara, the 14-times major winner pulled his tee shot at the first on to the ninth fairway.
However, he put his recovery from there to around six feet and rolled in the putt before practising some chips from the front of the green.
Encouragingly, there were no signs of the awful problems that led to Woods stepping away from the game since withdrawing from the Farmers Insurance Open in early February.
Woods, a four-times Masters champion, only confirmed last Friday that he would be making his return in this event, having missed it last year following back surgery.
The former world No 1 turned up at Augusta yesterday in the middle of the afternoon and received some warm embraces from fellow competitors on the range. One of those, ironically, came from Darren Clarke, the man Woods will have to match to make a spectacular return by winning his fifth Green Jacket.
Woods has slipped to 111th in the world rankings, having dropped a further seven spots in the updated list after falling out of the world’s top 100 for the first time since September 1996 a week ago.
Coincidentally, Clarke was also ranked 111th in the world when he became Open champion in 2011 while American Keegan Bradley won the US PGA Championship the same year as the world No 108, but, those two apart, it is rare for major titles to be claimed by players outside the top 100.
Woods, who started his warm-up session, by hitting chips, also received a huge hug from O’Meara, who was his mentor at one time but admitted at the weekend that the pair were no longer that close.
“To be honest, I don’t have much communication with Tiger these days,” said the former Open champion. “I still want to be there for him. I’d love to help him if I can. I still consider him a friend. But I can only do as much as he wants me to do. Ever since the (2009) accident when he went undercover for a while, he has had a pretty good shell around him.”
That shell was certainly lifted as the pair headed out together for their practice round followed by a massive crowd, the majority of whom, of course, were only there to see Woods.
The 39-year-old has started just two events in 2015, shooting a career-worst score of 82 to miss the cut in the first of them and withdrawing through injury after just 11 holes of the second.
Woods is now ranked below the likes of Japan’s Tomohiro Kondo and Mexico’s Carlos Ortiz and has not won a major since the 2008 US Open. His last Masters victory came in 2005 and he missed the event for the first time in his career 12 months ago following back surgery.
At least as a former champion, the American is entitled to take his place in the field, unlike the unfortunate Marc Warren. The Glaswegian missed out on a Masters debut after failing to make the world’s top 50 by the 30 March deadline by just 0.094 points, only to find himself ranked 50th this week when the rankings were updated after the Shell Houston Open.
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