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Woods off to rousing start in pursuit of more Masters history, maybe another green jacket

Tiger Woods Tiger Woods - The Canadian Press

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Tiger Woods can still draw a crowd.

And the way he started the Masters on Thursday, there seems a good chance the patrons will get to cheer him on through the weekend.

With a massive gallery hanging on his every swing at windy Augusta National, Woods recorded a pair of birdies on the front side and was 1-under when darkness cut short the opening round.

Woods' performance was especially impressive in swirling gusts that were forecasted to climb to 45 mph, the towering Georgia pines swaying like those inflated stick figures advertising a mattress store sale.

“The wind was all over the place,” Woods said. "It was one of the most tricky days that I’ve ever been a part of. It was hard to get a beat not only on what direction it was going, but the intensity, and it kept switching all over the place.

“It was a very difficult day,” he added.

Woods will return Friday morning to finish the last five holes before he sets his sights on another bit of Masters history in the second round.

If the five-time winner of the green jacket can make the cut, it would mark a record 24th consecutive time he's advanced past the midway point at the first major championship of the year.

He's currently tied with three-time champion Gary Player, who made 23 straight cuts beginning in 1959, and 1992 winner Fred Couples, whose own streak lasted until 2007.

Of course, Woods has his sights on bigger goals than just playing four rounds, even with a battered body that has endured multiple injuries, countless surgeries and a devastating car wreck.

Even though he has played just one tournament this year — and a mere 24 holes in that one before he withdrew with an illness — the 48=year-old certainly looked far fitter than he did in his last two appearances at Augusta National.

“It’s there,” Woods said in the briefest of medical updates. “The body is OK. We’ve got some work to do yet tonight.”

In 2021, a little over a year after a car wreck nearly claimed his right leg, Woods hobbled around the hilly course with a noticeable limp, his clubs doubling as canes as he negotiated the undulations.

A year ago, he didn't even make it to the end, his feet aching and his game in shambles when he withdrew before completing a water-logged third round that extended into the final day.

“He sure looks good," one fan remarked, a sentiment that was expressed numerous times as Woods strolled around the challenging layout with barely a hitch in his step.

A buzz began to sweep through the gallery in front of the clubhouse before Woods — surrounded by a cauldron of security officers — popped out for a tee time that was delayed 2 1/2 hours by morning storms.

As he walked toward the putting green, a steely determination in his eyes, he seemed oblivious to the ubiquitous chants of “Go get 'em, Tiger!"

Nearly three decades after his first trip around Augusta National, Woods hit a huge, sweeping fade to begin his round. He stuck his approach shot to 8 feet and made the slight bender to quickly get into the red numbers on a day when those who went off early were going low.

“A bird on the opening hole!” a young man shouted out to his buddies, hustling off to get a good spot at the the next hole. “The big cat is on the prowl!”

Woods followed his impressive start with some deft scrambling after hitting a wayward tee shot into the trees left of No. 2. He punched back into the fairway his left-handed, then flew his approach shot over the green, but managed to get up and down from there for par.

“Boy, I hit a nice pitch from over the green,” Woods said, clearly proud of himself. “That was nice.”

There was a brief bobble at par-3 fourth, where Woods sent his tee shot over the green, followed by a slippery pitch that raced past the hole, leading to his first bogey.

It would be his only one of the day.

Woods capitalized on the par-5 eighth, reaching the massive green in two shots and converting a tricky two-putt to get his score back into red numbers. In fading light, there was more impressive scrambling to salvage three straight pars through the heart of Amen Corner.

When Woods walked off the course shortly before 8 p.m. local time, he was six strokes behind leader Bryson DeChambeau, who went out early and posted a 65.

A bit of a daunting deficit, to be sure, but one that is unlikely to shake Woods' belief that he still has a shot at joining Jack Nicklaus as the only six-time Masters champions.

“If everything comes together, I think I can get one more,” Woods said earlier in the week. He paused briefly before adding, “Do I need to describe that any more than that, or are we good?”

Woods played with Jason Day and Max Homa four groups from the end, which meant there was no chance of finishing the round before sundown.

But it was certainly an encouraging start for the big crowd that shadowed Woods for 13 holes on Thursday.


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