Paolo UghettiESPN4 minutes of reading
After a hot day of five bogeys and three birdies in a thick Georgia wind, a sweat-soaked Woods finished with a 2-over opening-round 74 and did his best to see the rest of his tournament through rose-colored glasses.
“Today was the perfect time for an even par round, I just didn’t do it,” Woods said. “Most guys are going low today. This is the day to do it. Tomorrow I’ll be a little better, a little sharper, a little bit more on my way. It’s going to be an interesting one. Finish the race when the weather comes. If I can stay there, I can come back.”
Unlike last year, when Woods returned to the Masters 14 months after his car crash, with an opening-round 71 and a cut, this year’s first round has seen no real rhythm.
On the front nine, Woods’ putter was his nemesis as he missed three short par putts and carded three bogeys. But to hear the five-time champion describe the issue, Woods was more concerned with his iron game after hitting 10 of 14 fairways.
“I didn’t have good speed early,” Woods said. “I had two three-putts and that resulted in a par, but I didn’t hit my irons close enough today. I didn’t look too good on myself.”
Throughout the day, Woods couldn’t make the putts he needed, often sitting 10 feet out for birdies. On the 15th, he read a 27-foot, left-to-right putt perfectly and sank into the center of the cup to return in 2 over. He followed that up with his second straight birdie on 16 from 8 feet to get back to 1 over. But the bogey on 18 gave the round a different meaning, especially considering how Woods described the pain in his right leg.
“It’s sustainable,” he said.
When asked how his foot was, Woods simply replied: “Bound”.
After hitting his approach shot onto the 11th green, Woods grimaced and took extra time to stretch his right leg and ankle.
It’s not the first or last time.
In fact, an hour before he was scheduled to play, Woods was seen writhing while walking into a shallow practice bunker. Throughout the day, Woods passed supporters who once lowered their voices and cheered when they saw him walking up or down a hill and noticed his gait. As Woods tried to find the flat side of Augusta’s majestic slopes, at times using a club as a walking stick, grunts followed his hesitant steps.
Woods was struggling in his game, too, but it was hard to square his physical limitations with the few flashes of patented greatness he displayed. Woods outplayed his playing partners Victor Hovland and Sander Schaffel on the first hole. On the 8th, he smashed a 3-wood 250 yards and nearly holed his chip for eagle. Even the backward birdies at 15 and 16 felt like vintage Tiger.
But 18 is a reminder that golf can be cruel sometimes. Woods’ drive was nearly perfect, but it sat too close to the fairway bunker for him to take a stance. After several attempts to position his right foot into the bunker while his left foot was out, Woods was unable to connect it sufficiently to avoid the right greenside bunker. When he hit the ball, he hopped on his left leg several times to avoid putting too much pressure on the right side.
“It’s better to jump on the left foot,” Woods said. “If I do it in another one, not so good.”
In some ways, Woods’ words on Tuesday that he didn’t know how many more rounds he had left at Augusta rang a little more true after Thursday, especially if he didn’t want to play at Riviera he wasn’t interested in playing. The competition and his constant insistence that his leg will never be the same.