The MastersApril 9, 2015

This might well have been the weirdest Tiger Woods round ever

AUGUSTA, GA. -- We know he's had better rounds, and he's certainly had worse. But it's hard to think of a more peculiar round than the one Tiger Woods completed on Thursday evening, if only going by our warped set of expectations.

Put another way, Tiger Woods shot 73 in the opening round of the Masters and we're calling that . . . progress? Encouraging?

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Consider that Woods hasn't completed 18 holes in more than two months. It had been even longer since he has broken 80. His return to golf here at Augusta still featured the occasional snap hook and water ball, and yet it was wholly respectable.

One might even say decent.

These might not be the adjectives you'd expect to attach to a player who has won 14 majors. And yet given what we've seen him do on the course in 2015, it beats the alternative.

Related: How Tiger's swing has changed

"I felt good," said Woods. "I hit the ball well enough to shoot a few under par but we just really struggled with the greens."

The inevitable blights in Woods' first round since walking off the course after 11 holes at Torrey Pines in February included a three-putt bogey on the first; a drop-kick drive into the wrong fairway on the ninth, a horrid second shot trying to recover that drive, and a tee shot on the slippery par-3 12th that hit the bank and sucked back into the water. The thing is, he only made bogeys at the ninth and 12th holes, when a higher score was entirely possible.

There were enough opportunities for the day to unravel in a fashion that has become sadly familiar. And yet amazingly, remarkably, it was his play around the greens that staved off disaster.

Or perhaps you forgot that as recently as a few days ago, there was a fear he would blade a wedge into the gallery and maim a patron.

"It's my strength again," Woods said of his short game. "That's why I busted my butt and took time off. That's why I hit thousands upon thousands of shots, to get it back to being a strength again. And it is."

OK, fine, but Woods is still nine shots back of Spieth. In a tie for 41st, he's still in danger of making the cut. We may be impressed after a day in which he completed the round (yeah!) and looked merely rusty (Go Tiger!), and yet there's still a very chance his Masters ends before he even really got started. But typical of the Woods of old, he was already looking ahead.

"I'm still in it. I'm only nine back," Woods said.  "We've got a long way to go."

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