Tiger on Prowl at Augusta

Sungjae Im 1st round leader at 67

Tiger on Prowl at Augusta

R2: Scheffler’s Seismic Surge
R3: Sunday’s Superman — Scheffler or Smith?
R4: Scheffler slams door shut, wins first major at Masters

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

AUGUSTA, GA. Finally. With a gap of 508 days Tiger Woods returned to competitive golf at a venue where past successes elevated his stature to the pinnacle of golf as the sport’s premier player. Woods opened the 86th Masters with a gritty one-under-par 71 and was one of just eighteen players posting a score under par.

Tiger on Prowl at Augusta

In all his previous Masters the expectation for his success was often viewed as a given. However, in Thursday’s opening round, a clear unknown hung in the air given the amount of time he has been away from a competitive environment of such clear consequence. 

Woods won his first major here at Augusta 25 years ago at the record age of 21 with a performance that shook the golf world and launched his star to the heavens. But now at 46, his body having undergone numerous surgeries, left open the door of doubt and whether the flame could burn as bright as it has in years past.

Tiger on Prowl at Augusta

With Woods the bar of expectation comes not only from his fans but even more so from himself. Thursday’s round showed the relish he savors in once again being in an environment that has long been his domain. Like a tiger in the jungle — on the prowl and ready to strike.

The first-round lead belonged to Sungjae Im — firing a five-under-par 67. The 24-year-old South Korean leads by one over Aussie Cameron Smith who started his day with a double-bogey and then followed with eight birdies through the 17th hole. His round went backwards at the 18th hole with a concluding double-bogey. 

Just one shot further back at 69 is a group of players highlighted by world number one player Scottie Scheffler and 2020 Masters champion Dustin Johnson.

Tiger on Prowl at Augusta

The leaderboard had a number of players make early moves only to fall back as the round progressed. Four-time major winners Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka did move into red numbers at various points, but ultimately finished with rounds of 73 and 75 respectively. Daniel Berger reached the final tee at three-under-par but then double-bogied the final hole to finish at 71. The unpredictability of Augusta National was certainly front and center.

Teeing off at 10:34 AM on the 1st hole with Louis Oosthuizen and Joaquin Neimann, Tiger’s opening tee shot sailed right but he was able to secure par. Woods did not have a vintage day of shotmaking — hitting only 9 of 18 greens in the regulation stroke and 8 of 14 fairways. The saving grace for him was a tenacious grit he displayed with a deft short game and a putting expertise that kept him going with only 27 strokes played on the day. Not every putt was made but it was his putter that found the bottom of the cup at crucial moments.

For other players the inability to excel on all cylinders when the total game is not in sync can prove unnerving. Woods, as a seasoned player realizes that better than others and the wherewithal to get the golf ball into the hole is the essential ingredient. To borrow an old truism — it’s not how but how many.

Tiger got the excitement going for the huge assembly of people who lined the fairways to see his every shot played at the par-3 6th. His laser-like approach to less than two feet provided his first birdie of the day. But, Woods failed to keep the momentum going with a lackluster bogey at the par-5 8th.

Tiger on Prowl at Augusta

He returned to red numbers after birdieing the par-5 13th. Yet, as before on the outward nine, that positive moment was derailed by a bogey at the 14th when he failed to get up and down from the back fringe area. 

With the round nearing an end — Tiger drained a 20-foot putt at the par-3 16th and raised his arm in celebration — once again moving back into red numbers for the day.

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A crucial moment came at the final hole when his tee shot was most fortunate in getting through a series of trees guarding the left side on the narrow 18th. Leaving himself well over 200 yards Woods hit his second shot to 78 yards away from the pin. A brilliant wedge shot placed him six feet away and he confidently knocked the putt in to keep his score in the red column and provide one final moment of delirium for those circling the final hole of the day.

The pandemonium Woods brings when playing was evident throughout the day. Shouts of “go Tiger” were heard constantly and even he mentioned after the round that the atmosphere was “electric”.

Woods last played in the 2020 Masters where he tied for 38th. A serious car accident on February 23, 2021 near Los Angeles sidelined him in bed for four months and for a time speculation existed his right leg might be amputated. To imagine a return to the highest levels of golf competition was seriously in doubt and it left open the possibility his days in the competitive arena would end.

Tiger on Prowl at Augusta

Throughout the round Woods walked well without showing any distress in his movements over the hilly terrain that occupies Augusta National Golf Club. After the round he acknowledged he was pleased with the score but he emphatically stated more golf shots will be needed and he admitted, even prior to the first round, that the experience in playing competitively now would be a marathon test.

“To finish in the red today after as long a layoff as I’ve had and not being in competitive golf (is good), said Woods. “I know where to hit (on) a lot of these pins, and I miss in the correct spots and give myself good angles. I did that all day, and I was able to make a few putts and end up in the red like I am now.”

Woods had expressed concern prior to his arrival at Augusta that he needed serious prep — otherwise he would be “exposed” when competing against the best players in the world. If any one aspect burns within the core of Woods, it his embedded desire to be competitive. His arrival in Augusta was not going to be in the role of celebrating past accomplishments via ceremonial golf – but in climbing to higher heights. 

For Woods sentimentality has its place but never at the expense of being able to capture a record-tying sixth green jacket. His succinct two-word reply at his final press conference prior to the start of play on whether he believed he could once again win was utterly direct  and clear — “I do.”

Tiger on Prowl at Augusta

While his long game was a work in progress and bears watching for the rest of the event, he continually used his comprehensive knowledge of Augusta National in concert with a short game that was up to the task in keeping him going forward and with that the opportunity to remain within striking distance of the leaders.

Now the bigger issue for Woods is being able to get his body ready for a second 18 Friday. Something he fully acknowledged.

“I am sore as I expected to feel, but it was amazing,” said Woods. “Like I said to the team all week, come game time, it will be a different deal. My adrenaline will kick in. I’ll get into my own little world and I’ll get after it. It’s about the training that we’ve done to have the stamina to go.”

Woods even joked afterwards that between his finish to round one and the start of round two there would be “lots of ice.”

Cooler temperatures are expected in the next two rounds and wind gusts, which were approximately 10-15 mph for Thursday’s play are expected to increase in intensity. In short, the demands will only intensify and being able to persevere will be front and center.

Tiger on Prowl at Augusta

“We’ve got a long way to go,” said Woods. “This golf course is going to change dramatically — cooler, drier, windier. You can hear the SubAirs (the system Augusta National uses to keep putting greens dry on the surface and below) on out there. This golf course is going to change, and it’s going to get a lot more difficult.”

Woods turned the page Thursday from being off-camera to once again being the focal point of the lens. A new day beckons Friday.

Can he remain a focal point? The answer will be forthcoming in the rounds to come. Nonetheless, the glint in his eye showed how much he missed the stage that he has long commanded – and still does.

Like Frank Sinatra — he remains the Chairman of the Board. 

Tiger on Prowl at Augusta


Five most difficult holes / based on stroke average

11th Par-4 – 4.469
18th  Par-4 – 4.444
1st  Par-4 – 4.309
10th  Par-4 – 4,298
4th  Par-3 – 4,273

Least Birdies

11th with 3
5th with 4

Most Birdies

2nd with 58
8th with 43

Driving Distance Leader – Cameron Champ – 317.8 Yards

Greens in Regulations Leader – Dustin Johnson – 83.3%

Putts per Green in Regulation – Sepp Straka – 1,269

Tiger on Prowl at Augusta

86th Masters / 1st round scores
Augusta National Golf Club

Pos.PlayerTo ParR1
1Sungjae Im-567
2Cameron Smith-468
T3Danny Willett-369
T3Joaquin Niemann-369
T3Scottie Scheffler-369
T3Dustin Johnson-369
T7Jason Kokrak-270
T7Corey Conners-270
T7Patrick Cantlay-270
T10Harry Higgs-171
T10Kevin Na-171
T10Daniel Berger-171
T10Tiger Woods-171
T10Tony Finau-171
T10Webb Simpson-171
T10Harold Varner III-171
T10Will Zalatoris-171
T10Matthew Fitzpatrick-171
T19Garrick HiggoPar72
T19Talor GoochPar72
T19Hideki MatsuyamaPar72
T19Cameron ChampPar72
T19Lucas GloverPar72
T19Charl SchwartzelPar72
T19Lee WestwoodPar72
T19Keita Nakajima (a)Par72
T19Sergio GarciaPar72
T19Abraham AncerPar72
T19Tyrrell HattonPar72
T19Viktor HovlandPar72
T31Min Woo Lee+173
T31Mackenzie Hughes+173
T31Shane Lowry+173
T31Erik van Rooyen+173
T31Christiaan Bezuidenhout+173
T31Robert MacIntyre+173
T31Russell Henley+173
T31Tom Hoge+173
T31Bubba Watson+173
T31Marc Leishman+173
T31Collin Morikawa+173
T31Rory McIlroy+173
T43J.J. Spaun+274
T43Austin Greaser (a)+274
T43Padraig Harrington+274
T43Mike Weir+274
T43Sepp Straka+274
T43Kyoung-Hoon Lee+274
T43Brian Harman+274
T43Zach Johnson+274
T43Max Homa+274
T43Adam Scott+274
T43Lucas Herbert+274
T43Seamus Power+274
T43Patrick Reed+274
T43Billy Horschel+274
T43Jon Rahm+274
T43Xander Schauffele+274
T43Jordan Spieth+274
T60Fred Couples+375
T60Guido Migliozzi+375
T60Ryan Palmer+375
T60Tommy Fleetwood+375
T60Kevin Kisner+375
T60Cameron Davis+375
T60Takumi Kanaya+375
T60Gary Woodland+375
T60Sam Burns+375
T60Brooks Koepka+375
T70Stewart Cink+476
T70Si Woo Kim+476
T70Bryson DeChambeau+476
T70Louis Oosthuizen+476
T70Justin Thomas+476
T70Bernhard Langer+476
T70Justin Rose+476
T77Jose Maria Olazabal+577
T77Larry Mize+577
T77Hudson Swafford+577
T77Cameron Young+577
T77Luke List+577
T82Francesco Molinari+678
T82Vijay Singh+678
T84Stewart Hagestad (a)+779
T84Thomas Pieters+779
T86Aaron Jarvis (a)+981
T86Matthew Wolff+981
T86James Piot (a)+981
T86Laird Shepherd (a)+981
90Sandy Lyle+1082