AUGUSTA, Ga. — It's only the start of this four-day rodeo. But for Tiger Woods, a start that more than kept him in the saddle.
The 43-year-old overcame a shaky putter and unfriendly conditions to turn in a two-under 70 in the opening round of the Masters.
"I felt like I played well and I did all the things I needed to do today to post a good number," Woods said. "I drove it well, hit some good iron shots, speed was good on the greens.
"And it was tricky, the winds as of right now it puffs up, it goes down, it switches directions, and it's typical of this golf course, it just kind of swirls out there and it's hard to get a bead on the exactly what it's doing at all times."
There weren't a bevy of highlights, at least compared to the standard set by this tournament, as tricky hole locations and dicey wind kept the fireworks at bay. Nevertheless, on an afternoon when a host of stars went south, Woods stayed steady. Here are seven takeaways from Tiger's first round at the Masters.
Overcame the Thursday curse
Tiger and Thursday have gone together like pancakes and ketchup. In 21 previous first-round outings at Augusta National, Woods owned an over-par scoring average of 72.10. A mark 1.24 strokes higher than his Friday average, and 2.15 strokes worse than Saturday.
With a handful of makable birdies that missed, many Tiger fans left Thursday wondering what could have been. But the 70 was still his second-best Thursday score in his career, and more than puts him in an enviable position heading into Friday.
Speaking of which...
A good omen
In three of four Masters victories, Woods opened with a 70, in case you're in to that type of thing. The other win? A two-over 74 in 2005. And for those scoring at home, Woods' lowest Thursday came in 2010 with a four-under 68. He ultimately finished T-4, five shots behind Phil Mickelson.
The iron game was slightly off
Tiger's second-shot prowess fueled his early-career success at Augusta. He led the field in greens hit during his first three wins, and came in second in the category in 2005. In that nine-year span, Tiger averaged a 71.76 GIR percentage versus the field’s 59.31 figure. Though the course has undergone several alterations in the past 14 years, that strategy holds true: Adam Scott led the field in GIR during his 2013 victory, Sergio Garcia (’17) and Jordan Spieth (’15) ranked second in their wins, Bubba Watson T-4 (’12) and T-5 (’14), and Danny Willett (’16) coming in T-6.
But on Thursday, Woods' approach game wasn't were it needed to be. He hit only 11 greens and just 50 percent of the par 4s in regulation. Numbers that are especially curious given the property remains wet from three inches of rain this week. Woods entered the week ranked 16th in strokes gained/approach, and led the category last season. Nevertheless, given this facet of the game has plagued Woods at Augusta the past decade (66.47 GIR percentage versus the field's 61.81 output), it's something to monitor on Friday.
Not that all his irons were bad on Thursday:
Watch this remarkable work on No. 14
Woods pulled his tee shot on the 14th into the pines, into a position where punch-out seemed to be the only play. Only Tiger found a window and went way, way vertical, finding the green and leaving 25 feet or so for birdie.
An impressive shot, one that many chalked up to saving par. Only Woods had other plans in mind.
Considering he and his Scotty weren't on speaking terms for much of the day, it was a respite both Woods and his fans desperately needed.
And also crucial in gaining a stroke on the field. As of writing, Woods was one of just five players (out of 70 to go through) to birdie the 14th.
Kept it in the ballpark
After a slow start with the big stick this season, Tiger saw improvements at the Players and Match Play, a trend that continued on Day 1 at the Masters.
Though Augusta National is not known for its tight confines, Woods has struggled to steer his ball towards the short stuff, hitting less than 60 percent of fairways in the past decade. While it wasn't a flawless showing off the tee Thursday, Woods' drives were mostly in play (which makes his second-shot performance even more vexing), and there were no egregious foul balls. As Woods' distance advantage is no more, this accuracy is imperative in facilitating second-shot chances.
Woods avoided the big number
Many forecasts called for low scoring on Day 1. That proved not to be the case, as the hole locations—though fair—were punishing to anything less than solid. To escape with just two bogeys is a fate many players wish they could boast.
The mock was back!
Sure, we knew this was coming: Last week Nike revealed that Woods would be reviving the Steve Jobs ensemble, a style Woods made popular in the mid-2000s and wore at the 2005 Masters. Still, seeing it in person was like jumping into a glorious time machine. Here we've spent a decade blaming Tiger's troubles on a car wreck and personal issues and swing changes and back injuries and a lack of confidence. Turns out the real problem was abandoning the mock turtleneck. Who knew?