AUGUSTA, Ga. — Tiger Woods confidante Rob McNamara remarked early on a warm and sun-splashed Thursday at the Masters that the four-time champion had an achievable goal in mind as he embarked on his 22nd competitive appearance at Augusta National. It had little to do with score.
“Just stress-free is good,” he said as he followed along in the swollen gallery Woods typically attracts.
For the most part, golf’s main draw didn’t raise anyone’s blood pressure—most importantly, his own.
A tranquil Tiger avoided toil and trouble—and three-putts and doubles—posting a sufficiently orthodox two-under-par 70 to begin the 83rd Masters Tournament. Were it not for a collection of indifferent putts on the opening nine and a loose drive at the 17th hole that cost him the second of two bogeys, Woods easily could have submitted something in the 60s, which he has done in the first round just once—in 2010, not long after the fateful Thanksgiving incident in Orlando, when he shot a smooth 68.
Nevertheless, the 70 ties his second-lowest opening round. And as omens go, 70 might be a more preferable outcome. In the first three of his four wins here, Woods began with that opening salvo. All told, in his previous five Masters in which he started two under, he has never finished worse than T-6.
So, he kind of likes where he stands after 18 holes, even if the bogey did cost him a share of the lead. First page of the leader board as well as first in the hearts of patrons and TV execs.
A stress-free time was had by all.
“I feel very good. I feel like I played well today and I controlled my golf ball all day,” Woods said as he concluded his day as part of a large logjam that at the time left him one behind the leaders, a list that included playing partner Jon Rahm. “I’ve shot this number and won four coats, so hopefully I can do it again.” (Actually, in his last Masters triumph, in 2005, he opened with a 74. But, hey, who wants to correct him?)
Looking relaxed and confident, Woods hit nine fairways and 11 greens in regulation, a flip in his usual proficiency of the two disciplines. On Thursday, he drove it well and missed some scoring chances with his irons, particularly at the par-5 15th when he flew the green after nuking a 4-iron 242 yards. His putter wasn’t really behaving either, especially in the middle of the outward nine when putts of seven, four and five feet went astray.
“I missed a few for sure,” he said. “I hit one bad one there at 6 [after a laser to four feet]. Otherwise, it was a good, solid day.”
Still, he turned in one under with birdies at No. 2 and 9, and then he two-putted from 53 feet for birdie at the par-5 13th. Next, in Tiger-like style, he gave the audience a jolt when he ran in a left-turning 25-footer for birdie at the par-4 14th after escaping the left trees.
All that did was tie him atop the leader board.
And make people woozy.
And send Hosannas ringing through the pines.
Woods, who managed to get a fist-pump in at that moment, merely looked like he’d been there before. Because he has. Like, you know, a lot.
The late bogey meant nothing, not this early.
“No, it’s not a bad start,” he shrugged, knowing that, as he said, “my body’s good and my game’s good, it’s sharp.”
No, it’s a rather welcome start compared to his last two Masters when he opened with 73 and was fighting uphill the rest of the way. That usually doesn’t work. The last player to win the Masters after starting outside the top 10 on Day 1 was, well … Tiger in 2005.
“We still have a long way to go,” he warned. “Tee off late tomorrow, and the wind’s supposed to be up, so I have my work cut out for me the rest of the week and so does everyone else.”
Yeah, there’s work to do. But nothing to get worked up about.