Tiger Woods felt frustrated about playing the par-5s “very sloppily” in the first round of the 82nd Masters. Defending champion Sergio Garcia, though, would have gladly taken one of his four pars.
The Spaniard ran up a 13 – it tied the highest score at a single hole in the event’s history – at the 15th. Caused by hitting five balls in the water with a wedge, the disaster left him having to settle for an opening 81, eight shots more than Woods. “I don’t know what to tell you,” said Garcia afterwards. “It’s the first time in my career where I make a 13 without missing a shot!”
Dressed in black from head to toe, Woods received a warm welcome on the first tee, though a civilised Masters one without anyone needlessly screaming and shouting. The warmth of the thousands of patrons to him was tangible on his first appearance here since 2015. You could have heard a pin drop as he stepped forward to hit his much-anticipated opening blow and yet it is normally quite noisy around that area.
While it wasn’t quite as destructive as some of the shots he’s started with in various big events over the years, Woods found tree trouble on the left after opting to take a 3-wood but soon had those patrons feeling as though talk of him being able to pull off one of the greatest comebacks in sport might well be vindicated this week.
He threaded his second through a gap in those tall pines to find the front right of the green. “Oh my god, that was sweet,” said one patron to that. “He’s going to have a good day, I feel it,” declared another after he then came close to starting with a birdie with a brilliant putt from fully 40 feet.
Despite booming his drive over the top of the hill at the par-5 second, a pushed approach with just a mid-iron stopped him from being able to take advantage of that. He unleased another massive drive at the third, coming up just short as the group in front, which included Martin Kaymer, were still putting out.
One of the many encouraging aspects of Woods’ performances in the build up to this event was his chipping, which had become suspect when his back problems were at their worst. In his first test under the gun on the tight lies here, he flopped a chip to around eight feet and, with equal confidence, rolled in the putt.
He wasn’t in red figures for long, alas. Back-to-back bogeys went on his card at the fourth and fifth. He was then a bit tentative with a six-foot birdie putt following a superb tee shot to a back pin position at the sixth. Despite another mighty blow with his driver, he couldn’t birdie the eighth, the second par-5 on the front nine.
The start of the back nine was messy. He was miles right off the tee at the tough 11th then hit a patron on the leg with a low recovery effort. “God dang it,” he said of that leading to a bogey. He then found Rae’s Creek with his tee shot at the next but limited the damage to a bogey. He was in the trees again at both the 13th and 15th, preventing him from picking up shots at either of those par 5s. In between, though, he birdied the 14th and then repeated that feat from around 20 feet at the 16th. Two solid pars to finish made it a decent day’s work in the end.
“Awesome,” said the four-time winner of being back here after fearing that his career could have been over due to the back problems that led to him undergoing spinal fusion surgery less than a year ago. “It was interesting,” he added of his day. “A bit up and down and I played the par-5s very sloppily. Even if I’d played them half decent, it would have been a solid start. I definitely hit the ball better than the score suggests.”
Garcia made an eagle at the 15th in the last round 12 months ago as he won his first major at the 74th attempt. In one fell swoop, he went from wearing a Green Jacket to a straight-jacket.
“It’s just unfortunate, but it is what it is,” he added.