He walked through the azaleas and showed only a slight limp. He couldn’t get down to time his putts on the tricky greens of Augusta National. But otherwise, there was no other indication that Tiger Woods almost lost his right leg 14 months ago in a car accident. Woods’ biggest comeback got off to an electrifying start Thursday, when he posted a 1-under 71 in the opening round of the Masters.
“I ended up in the red,” he said confidently. “I am where I need to be.”
As Woods hurried toward the clubhouse after a difficult day that lasted 5 1/2 hours, he heard cheers from the crowd saying, “Well done Tiger!” About half the field was still on the course when Woods delivered his card, which included three birdies, a couple of bogeys and plenty of solid pars, most saves with his deft touch on the greens.
The star was four strokes behind South Korea’s Sungjae Im, who completed his round on 67 strokes, five under par.
Cameron Smith is second, one shot off the top. Chilean Joaquín Nieman had a day of 69 shots and shares third place with three other golfers: Scottie Scheffler, Dustin Johnson and Danny Willett.
Niemann undoubtedly achieved the best shot of the day, to score an eagle on the 9th hole. But even that did not earn him the biggest ovation of the day. Those were reserved for Woods, who appeared on the field alongside the Chilean.
“I probably noticed at first that there were a lot of people, but then when I tried to talk to my caddy, I just couldn’t hear anything he was saying,” Niemann recounted.
Woods pulled off one last trick on the 18th hole. After he sent his shot off the tee into the pines to the right, he could only get close to the green. He then placed the ball to six feet and with a putt he managed to keep his card below par.
“I felt good,” Woods said. “Once the adrenaline kicked in and I entered my own world, I knew I could take care of everything.”
But it felt like he was already the winner.
“You can’t unsee it,” Australian Smith said. “It’s an inspiration to see him back and playing.”
A birdie on the 6th hole drove the audience crazy. A sloppy bogey on the par-5 8th hole elicited groans, but Woods’ incredible short game prevented him from finishing with a big number that could have triggered the tragedy at Augusta. He couldn’t fully bend down to see his putts, forcing him to rely on his caddy Joe LaCava to judge the tricky greens at Augusta National.
But that was a minor inconvenience after what he lived through. Woods’ career was in jeopardy after the car accident that left him in a hospital bed for three months. Woods didn’t appear in public until November, when he released a video of him practicing with a stick and the message, “I’m making progress.”
Despite the long layoff and obvious physical limitations due to the nuts and rods holding up his right leg, Woods still believes he can take his sixth green jacket.
“Lots of ice,” he said, cracking a smile.
Like old times.
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.