Sport Golf Tiger Woods just off the lead in Masters return

Tiger Woods just off the lead in Masters return

tiger woods masters
Crowds have returned to the Masters after a two-year absence – and it's Woods most want to see.
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Tiger Woods carded a solid opening 71 at the Masters on Thursday, giving his army of fans fresh belief he can win a sixth green jacket.

Back playing in his first competitive round of golf in 508 days after a career-threatening car crash, Woods mixed three birdies with two bogeys at Augusta National to sit in a tie for 10th four back of South Korea’s Sung-jae Im.

Im sits alone atop the leaderboard after posting a five-under 67 highlighted by an eagle at the par five 13th.

Australia’s Cameron Smith, who in March won golf’s unofficial fifth major the Players Championship, lurks one back at four-under 68.

The world No.6 fired six birdies and could have had the outright lead had it not been for two double bogeys – on the first and 18th holes.

“To be honest, those couple of double bogeys really didn’t have too bad a shots in them. It’s not like I was scratching it out of the trees,” Smith said.

“Got my second shot into a reasonable spot and just misjudged the wind on both wedges. Just left myself in a bit of a tough spot.

“Other than that, it was just really solid.”

World No.1 Scottie Scheffler, 2020 Masters champion Dustin Johnson, 2016 Masters winner Briton Danny Willett and Chilean Joaquin Niemann all had 69s to sit one further adrift.

Smith and Im have come close to a green jacket once before, finishing in a tie for second behind Johnson two years ago.

“It was great to have a great finish at my Masters debut, and because of that experience I feel comfortable when I come to Augusta. I feel like I can play well here every time,” said Im.

Although the year’s first major featured all of golf’s best, there was only one man most had come to see, the world’s 973rd ranked player Woods.

It was a remarkable effort from the 15-times major champion just 14 months after doctors had considered the possibility of having to amputate his right leg mangled in the single car accident.

“The place was electric,” said Woods.

“I hadn’t played like this since 2019 when I won because in 2020 we had COVID and we had no one here, and I didn’t play last year.

“To have the patrons fully out and to have that type of energy out there was awesome to feel.

“People have no idea how hard it’s been.”

Woods at times noticeably limped as he made his way around the undulating layout, regarded as one of the toughest walks on the PGA Tour.

After COVID limited the number of spectators allowed onto the grounds in the past two years, the crowds were back in force and bringing with them the familiar roars that echo through the tall Georgia pines.

The 46-year-old had his game face on as he walked out to the first tee where the entire length of the par-four 445-yard opening hole was lined with thousands of spectators.

After five consecutive pars, Woods nearly aced the par-three sixth hole where his tee shot stopped two feet from the cup to set up his first birdie which was followed by his first bogey at the eighth.

Even par entering Amen Corner, Woods made it through the infamous stretch of holes unscathed, picking up his second birdie at 13.

That was followed by another bogey at 14 but the 16th provided vintage Woods as he rolled in a monster 29-foot birdie putt and celebrated with a trademark fist pump.

“I was able to finish up in the red,” said Woods.

“I’m right where I need to be.

“I am as sore as I expected to feel. I’ll get into my own little world, and I’ll get after it.”

Veteran Marc Leishman and Masters rookie Min Woo Lee are six shots behind Im after rounds of one-over 73.

Fellow debutant Lucas Herbert and 2013 champion Adam Scott posted 74s and Cam Davis, also playing his maiden Masters, signed for a 75.