April 06, 2018

Tiger Finishes Thursday At 1-Over Par

AUGUSTA, Ga. – It wasn’t the start he wanted, but Tiger Woods finished like a champion. As a result, he’s still in the hunt for a fifth green jacket at the 82nd Masters.

Making his first start at Augusta National since 2015, Woods was on the ropes Thursday after he fatted a 9-iron into Rae’s Creek at the par-3 12th. Already 2-over par for the round, he was a staring at double-bogey and possibly a quick exit.

After taking a drop, Woods’ third shot settled on the front of the green, leaving a difficult 15-foot putt for bogey. He buried it to limit the damage, then toured the last six holes in 2-under to salvage a 1-over 73.

“I played a major championship again,” said Woods, who had missed the last eight due to back injuries. “But also, I got myself back into the tournament, and it could have easily slipped away. I fought hard to get it back there, and I’m in this championship.”

You don’t win 79 PGA Tour titles and 14 majors without grit. The 42-year-old Woods dug deep on a warm and mostly windless day. Given where he has come from, undergoing four back procedures since 2014, and uncertain whether he would ever play competitive golf again six months ago, that is a major accomplishment.

“It felt so great to be out there,” Woods said.

Making his sixth start of 2018 and just his seventh in two years, Woods warned the media not to get ahead of themselves on Tuesday during a jam-packed press conference. Yes, he entered with two consecutive top five finishes and knows his game is coming around. But Augusta National isn’t exactly forgiving, exposing even the smallest weakness.

Woods carded four bogeys and three birdies, none on the gettable par-5s. It marked only the fifth time in 79 rounds at Augusta that he has failed to record a birdie or better on at least one par-5.

As a result, Woods is tied for 29th, seven strokes behind pacesetter Jordan Spieth. It snapped a streak of 12 rounds of par or better dating back to the Genesis Open in February.

“A 73 is fine,” said Woods. “By the end of the week, this will be a pretty packed leaderboard. A lot of guys still have a chance to win this golf tournament.”

Twenty players broke par.

An early starter with Marc Leishman and Tommy Fleetwood, Woods got off to a shaky start, hooking a 3-wood into the left trees at the par-4 first. He found an opening, punched an iron onto the front of the green and two-putted from Atlanta.

At the downhill par-5 second, where finding the fairway has also been an adventure through the years, Woods crushed a driver and hit a 6-iron for his second shot. He miss-hit it into the front-right bunker and settled for a disappointing par.

Woods played aggressively at the short par-4 third, choosing driver instead of a fairway wood or long iron. He roped it just short of the green, hit a testy wedge 12 feet behind the pin, and rolled it in for his first birdie at Augusta in three years.

Errant tee shots resulted in bogeys at the fourth and fifth, and Woods failed to capitalize at the par-4 sixth after a gorgeous approach. He parred eight and nine to turn in 1-over.

After a nice par save at 10, Woods blocked his drive way right at the difficult par-4 11th and sustained another bogey. Then he stumbled again at 12.

“I hit a terrible golf shot,” said Woods.

From there, his goal was to battle back to even par.

Although Woods failed to birdie the vulnerable par-5 13th and 15th holes, he cashed in on the tough par-4 14th after a sparkling 8-iron approach to eight feet, then cozied a 9-iron within 15 feet at the par-3 16th and curled in the putt.

“Sixteen has been good to me over the years,” he said, alluding to his memorable final round chip in 2005.

Woods finished solidly, nailing drives at 17 and 18. After tapping in for par at the latter, he was accorded one of several standing ovations during the day by appreciative patrons, six-deep on most holes, and gratefully tipped his hat.

“The crowds have been incredible,” said Woods. “It has been awesome this entire comeback.”

Woods hit 11 of 18 greens, eight of 14 fairways, and used 28 putts.

Unable to compete in three of the last four Masters, Woods insisted he felt comfortable from the start.

“The nerves really were just normal,” he said. “I wasn’t flying high. I wasn’t jittery. I wasn’t any of that stuff. I was very confident in what I was doing. I hit some good shots early – unfortunately they just didn’t continue.”

For the record, in 18 professional starts at Augusta National, Woods has only broken 70 once in the first round – 68 in 2010 – and bettered par eight times.

Woods draws a late start Friday, going off at 1:27 p.m. ET with Leishman and Fleetwood in the fourth-to-last threesome. He knows what he needs to do.

“There’s a lot of holes left to be played,” said Woods.