AUGUSTA, Ga. — By the time Tiger Woods‘ bogey putt on the 18th green dropped, the bright-white-colored shirt he had started the day with had taken on an entirely different shade.
After a hot day in thick Georgia air, five bogeys and three birdies, a sweat-drenched Woods finished a 2 over opening round of 74 and tried his best to look at the rest of his tournament through rose-colored glasses.
“Today was the opportune time to get the round under par, and I didn’t do that,” Woods said. “Most of the guys are going low today. This was the day to do it. Hopefully, tomorrow I’ll be a little bit better, a little bit sharper and kind of inch my way through it. This is going to be an interesting finish to the tournament with the weather coming in. If I can just kind of hang in there, maybe kind of inch my way back.”
Unlike last year, when Woods’ surprise return to the Masters just 14 months after his car accident resulted in an opening-round 71 and a made cut, this year’s first round never found a true 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 play after hitting 10 of 14 fairways.
“I didn’t have very good speed early,” Woods said. “I had two three-putts and consequently a couple over par, but I didn’t hit my irons close enough today. I didn’t give myself very good looks.”
All day long, Woods was unable to give himself makeable putts, often sitting outside of 10 feet for birdie. On 15, he read a 27-foot, left-to-right putt perfectly and sank it in the center of the cup to surface back at 2 over. He followed that with a dart on 16 to hit his second straight birdie from 8 feet to return to 1 over. But the bogey on 18 gave the round a different connotation, especially when considering how Woods described his right leg pain after.
“It’s constant,” he said.
When asked how his leg felt, Woods simply replied: “Sore.”
After hitting his approach shot over the 11th green, Woods grimaced and took extra time to stretch out his right leg and ankle.
It wasn’t the first or the last time.
In fact, an hour before he teed off, Woods was seen wincing as he walked into a shallow practice bunker. All day, Woods walked past cheering patrons who lowered their voices once they saw him walking up or down a hill and noticed his gait. Murmurs followed his hesitant steps as Woods attempted to find the flatter side of Augusta’s grand hillsides and, at times, used a club as a walking stick.
Woods was struggling with his game, too, but it was tough to square his physical limitations with some of the flashes of patented greatness that he also displayed. Woods outdrove his playing partners, Viktor Hovland and Xander Schauffele, on the first hole. On 8, he smashed a 3-wood 250 yards and nearly holed out his chip for eagle. The back-to-back birdies on 15 and 16 felt like vintage Tiger, too.
But 18 was a reminder that sometimes golf can be cruel. Woods’ drive was nearly perfect, but it sat too close to the fairway bunker for him to have a stance. After trying multiple times to stabilize his right leg inside the bunker while his left leg was outside, Woods couldn’t hook it enough to avoid the right greenside bunker. As he struck the ball, he hopped multiple times on his left leg to avoid adding more pressure on his right.
“Hopping on the left leg is fine,” Woods said. “If I did it on the other one, not so fine.”
In some ways, Woods’ words Tuesday that he wasn’t sure how many more competitive rounds at Augusta he has left rang a bit more true after Thursday, especially after his comments at Riviera that he’s not interested in playing if he’s not going to be competitive and his repeated stance that his leg won’t ever be the same.