Zürcher Nachrichten - Woods launches unlikely Masters quest with one-under 71

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Woods launches unlikely Masters quest with one-under 71
Woods launches unlikely Masters quest with one-under 71

Woods launches unlikely Masters quest with one-under 71

Tiger Woods, 14 months removed from a car crash that left him with devastating leg injuries, fired a one-under par 71 on Thursday to put himself in the mix at the Masters.

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The 46-year-old superstar, who has fallen to 973rd in the world rankings, wrestled a sub-par round out of Augusta National, where he's seeking the most remarkable comeback in a career marked as much by his gritty determination to overcome injury as by his sublime skills.

"I fought back to get in the red for the day," Woods said. "I'm where I wanted to be."

Woods walked off the course three shots off the clubhouse lead held by Australian Cameron Smith, whose four-under par 68 was all the more remarkable considering it was bookended by double bogeys at the first and 18th holes.

Woods was playing his first top-flight competitive round since the pandemic delayed Masters in November of 2020.

Woods had indicated as recently as February that he was unlikely to be ready to tee it up in the first major of the year, and said all week that his biggest challenge would be negotiating the hilly, 7,510-yard Augusta National course on his surgically repaired right leg.

He said prior to the tournament that he dealt with pain every day, but in the immediate aftermath of the round he downplayed his physical limitations.

"I felt good," he said. "The whole idea was to keep pushing and keep recovering. I've been doing that.

"I figured once adrenaline kicks in and I get fired up and get into my little world, everything should be fine."

Woods, whose decision to tee it up electrified the golf world, cut a vibrant figure in a hot pink shirt and black trousers -- all the better for the thousands of Augusta patrons keen to get a glimpse of him to track their hero.

A 30-minute delay to the start because of pre-dawn thunderstorms only intensified the anticipation for Woods's appearance on the first tee, where he was greeted with rapturous applause.

Woods wasn't delighted with his opening drive, which came up short of the right fairway bunker. His approach trickled off the green but he drained a 10-foot par saving putt.

It was just the first par save on a day when Woods hit eight of 14 fairways in regulation and just nine of 18 greens.

He watched a 15-foot birdie putt lip out at the fifth before sticking his tee shot at the par-three sixth two feet from the pin for his first birdie of the day.

After a bogey at the par-five eighth, Woods two putted from 24 feet for a birdie at 13, only to give the shot back at the next.

He curled in a 29-foot birdie putt at the 16th, and drained another par-saving 10-footer at the last.

- Must-watch Woods -

"You just can't not watch him," said Smith, who admitted he couldn't resist taking note of Woods's progress even as his own remarkable round unfolded.

After his stuttering start, Smith had eight birdies to reach six-under before he closed with another double at the last.

The Australian, who can topple Scottie Scheffler from the world number one ranking with a first major title this week, has shown he can contend at Augusta.

He's finished in the top 10 in three of his last four appearances. That includes his runner-up finish to Dustin Johnson in 2020, when Smith became the first player to break 70 in all four rounds of the Masters.

With late starters still on the course on a blustery afternoon, Johnson was four-under through 10 holes.

England's Danny Willett, the 2016 Masters champion, Chile's Joaquin Niemann and Scheffler were in the clubhouse on three-under.

Defending champion Hideki Matsuyama of Japan -- trying to join Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Woods as the only players to win back-to-back Masters titles -- carded a 72.

W.O.Ludwig--NZN