AUGUSTA, Ga. — He walked among the many azaleas with simply the slightest trace of a limp.
He couldn’t fairly bend over to learn the putts on Augusta National’s difficult greens.
Otherwise, there was nothing to point that Tiger Woods almost misplaced his proper leg 14 months in the past in a devastating automotive wreck.
Woods’ biggest comeback but obtained off to an electrifying begin Thursday when he shot a 1-under 71 within the opening spherical of the Masters.
“To end up in the red,” he mentioned confidently, “I’m right where I need to be.”
As Woods walked briskly towards the clubhouse after a grueling day that stretched to just about 5 1/2 hours, he heard shouts of “Way to go, Tiger!” from the spectators.
He was simply three strokes off the lead — with roughly half the sector nonetheless on the course — after making three birdies, a pair of bogeys and a complete lot of stable pars — a lot of them salvaged by his deft contact across the greens.
Woods pulled off one final Houdini act at No. 18. After yanking his tee shot into the towering pine bushes on the precise, he needed to lay up in need of the inexperienced.
But he pitched to six toes and rolled within the putt to maintain his rating underneath par.
“I felt good,” Woods mentioned. “Once the adrenaline kicks in and I get into my own little world, I knew I should be able to handle business.”
Yep, there’s nonetheless an extended method to go. Woods nonetheless should show his physique can bounce again day after day — 4 of them, ought to he make it to Sunday.
But it felt as if he was already a winner.
“You just can’t not watch him,” mentioned Australia’s Cameron Smith, amongst these tied for the lead after taking pictures a 68. “It’s an inspiration with him coming back and playing golf.”
With storm clouds giving method to good spring sunshine, Woods defied everybody’s expectations.
Except his personal.
When Woods delivered an emphatic clutch of the precise fist after rolling in a 30-footer for birdie on the sixteenth gap, it appeared like outdated occasions at one in every of golf’s most hallowed programs.
From the collapse of his marriage to a number of surgical procedures, Woods has at all times discovered a method to bounce again.
He’s doing it once more, wanting each bit just like the man who’s gained 5 inexperienced jackets and defied the percentages time and time once more.
A faucet-in birdie at No. 6 despatched the patrons right into a frenzy. A sloppy bogey on the par-5 eighth introduced some groans, however Woods’ good brief sport stored him from posting a type of massive numbers that may spell doom at Augusta.
He made it clear he had each intention of profitable when he determined to make the Masters his first aggressive match since that horrific automotive wreck in February 2021 led him to say docs mentioned his proper leg would possibly must be amputated.
Woods began the spherical with 5 straight pars — he simply missed a birdie on the powerful No. 5 gap when a 15-foot putt lipped out — earlier than delivering a classic tee shot on the par-3 sixth.
The ball climbed up a ridge on the inexperienced and stopped 2 toes in need of the flag, leaving Woods with a gimme that put him in purple numbers for the primary time.
A wedge shot and errant chip led to a bogey at No. 8, a gap that ought to be a main birdie alternative. “A loss of concentration there,” he moaned.
But Woods bounced again with a tough downhiller from 8 toes to save lots of par at No. 9.
Woods insisted his fingers nonetheless held the wonderful contact that has helped him win 15 main titles — the primary of them 25 years in the past at this very place — and seize a record-tying 82 victories on the PGA Tour.
Beginning at No. 7, he missed the inexperienced on 5 straight holes, however stored recovering together with his brief irons and putter.
Wearing a pink shirt and black pants, Woods was greeted by thunderous applause when his identify was introduced to an enormous gallery surrounding the primary tee.
Woods didn’t make stable contact together with his first shot: a 264-yard drive that light behind a bunker on the precise facet of the green. His strategy rolled off the entrance of the inexperienced, however he sank a 10-foot putt to save lots of par, bringing one other large roar from the patrons.
Woods walked slowly, realizing that he confronted 4 powerful days on a particularly hilly course if he manages to make the minimize.
He couldn’t totally bend over to learn putts, forcing him to rely extra on caddie Joe LaCava to assist him choose the treacherous greens at Augusta National.
But these felt like minor inconveniences in spite of everything he’s been by.
Woods’ profession was in jeopardy after the automotive wreck left him confined to a hospital mattress for 3 months. Woods was out of the general public eye till final November, when he posted a video of him swinging a membership with a easy message, “Making progress.”
His lone match within the 508 days since he final competed was a just-for-fun occasion in December by which he rode in a cart and was paired together with his 13-year-old son, Charlie.
Despite the lengthy layoff and the plain bodily limitations with screws and rods nonetheless holding the bones in place in his proper leg, Woods clearly thinks he can win his sixth inexperienced jacket.
At 46, he can be the oldest Masters champion by three weeks over Jack Nicklaus.
The largest query is how Woods holds up over 18 holes over 4 straight days, presuming he makes the minimize as he at all times does at Augusta.
He walked 18 holes final week — his first massive check — throughout a scouting journey together with his son.
Playing a complete match will probably be way more difficult.
“Lots of ice,” he mentioned, breaking into an enormous grin.
Just like outdated occasions.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963
More AP Masters: https://apnews.com/hub/the-masters