Sports

Masters: Tiger Woods shoots one under as Im Sung-jae leads on day one


-5 S-J Im (Kor); -4 C Smith (Aus); -3 D Willett (Eng), J Niemann (Chi), D Johnson (US), S Scheffler (US); -2 J Kokrak (US), C Conners (Can), P Cantlay (US)
Chosen others: -1 T Woods (US), W Zalatoris (US), M Fitzpatrick (Eng); E H Matsuyama (Jpn), L Westwood (Eng), V Hovland (Nor); +1 R McIlroy (NI); +2 J Rahm (Spa), J Spieth (US)

Tiger Woods shot a one-under-par 71 on his Masters comeback as the five-time champion made a surprising return to aggressive golf in what he described as an “electric” ambiance at Augusta.

Woods, 46, suffered life-threatening accidents in a automobile crash 14 months in the past, then feared his leg is perhaps amputated.

The 15-time main champion confirmed on Tuesday he deliberate to play and appeared sharp in Thursday’s opening spherical.

South Korea’s Im Sung-jae, runner-up in 2020, leads after a five-under 67.

“There is a long way to go, it is a marathon but it is nice to get off to a positive start,” Woods stated after taking part in his first aggressive spherical in 508 days.

Requested if with the ability to play felt like a victory after the severity of his accidents, Woods replied: “Sure.

“To see the place I have been, to get from there to right here, it was no simple process.

“I’m very lucky to have this opportunity to be able to play, and not only that, to play in the Masters and to have this type of reception.

“I imply, the place was electrical.”

The opening day was delayed by half an hour because of overnight thunderstorms, with testing windy conditions in the morning making way for a calmer afternoon in the sunshine.

One of the later starters, 24-year-old Im, began with three birdies and added another on the seventh to hit 32 on the front nine.

Successive bogeys on 10 and 11 pegged him back before an eagle on 13 and a birdie on 15 put him one shot ahead of Australia’s Cameron Smith.

Smith, going for a rare prestigious double after winning the Players Championship at Sawgrass last month, was the early clubhouse leader after a four-under 68.

England’s Danny Willett, who earned a shock win at the Masters in 2016, American world number one Scottie Scheffler, 2020 champion Dustin Johnson and Chile’s Joaquin Niemann are one shot behind Smith after 69s.

Northern Eire’s Rory McIlroy began his latest bid for a clean sweep of the four men’s majors – the 32-year-old’s eighth attempt to complete the career Grand Slam – with a 73.

Woods impresses in a round which few thought they would see again

When Woods crashed while speeding in Los Angeles in February 2021, the shocking images of his overturned car at the side of the road left his millions of admirers around the world fearing his golf career was over.

Woods spent three months in a hospital bed following the single-vehicle accident, where he hit a tree at approximately 75mph and was later found to have been driving at almost twice the legal speed limit.

That he has been able to return to health is remarkable, let alone be able to resume a glittering career in which his total of 15 men’s majors is second only to Jack Nicklaus.

In February, Woods made it clear that he thought the hilly terrain at Augusta National would come too soon in his recovery.

Yet as Masters week approached, speculation increased he was planning to play if he came through his practice rounds unscathed.

“I’m pleased with my entire workforce, we labored so arduous,” stated Woods.

“Folks don’t know how arduous we labored every day. We by no means took a day off.”

Vast numbers watched him practise at the iconic Georgia course on Monday, creating a celebratory atmosphere as the preeminent star of the sport continued his bid to make an astonishing comeback.

The moment Woods walked out on to the first tee on Thursday was even more special.

Huge cheers greeted his name being read out as thousands gathered to watch his opening shot. Despite his drive turning out to be wayward, it did not dampen the mood as Woods was cheered down the first fairway.

Packed galleries continued to greet him around the course.

Practice partners Justin Thomas and Fred Couples had talked up the level of Woods’ game, with the former world number one saying it was the physicality of getting around 72 holes which would be his biggest challenge.

Technically, he looked very good. Starting with five pars, he put his tee-shot on the par-three sixth to within a few feet and knocked in the birdie among more rapturous scenes.

A poor chip and putt from the side of the eighth green led to a bogey, before he moved back under par with a birdie on the par-five 13th after reaching the green in two.

More sloppiness around the 14th green led to another bogey, but a brilliant two on the par-three 16th ensured he would finish under par in his first competitive round since the 2020 Masters, which was held in November.

“I hadn’t performed in an environment like this since 2019 after I gained as a result of in 2020 we had Covid and we had no-one right here, and I did not play final 12 months,” added Woods.

“So to have the patrons totally out and to have that sort of power on the market was superior to really feel.”

McIlroy scraps as Willett shines

With all the attention on Woods, McIlroy said he felt less pressure at Augusta this year as he again bids to become only the sixth man to capture Masters, Open, US Open and US PGA Championship titles.

But McIlroy – who has not claimed victory at one of the four majors since 2014 – finished over par as he paid the price for some inaccurate approach play over the closing holes.

That was typified on the par-three 16th when his tee shot found a bunker, leading to a dropped shot. He also pushed his second shot into a bunker at the 18th, but brilliantly recovered with a delicate splash out of the sand and a clinical putt for par.

“I really feel prefer it was the worst I might have shot in the present day. I really feel like I performed actually, rather well,” McIlroy stated.

“I am inspired with how I performed so I’ve simply acquired to attempt to get extra out of the spherical tomorrow.”

Moments after McIlroy’s round finished, two-time major champion Tony Jacklin tweeted to urge the former world number one to “chill out and luxuriate in your self” when he looks to close the gap on the leaders on Friday.

McIlroy’s English taking part in associate Matt Fitzpatrick sunk a 20-foot putt on the last, enabling him to card a 71 after a consistent round where he made just one bogey.

England’s Willett has struggled to hit the same heights since his memorable Masters win six years ago, but says he is “trending properly” after his best opening round at Augusta.

The 34-year-old from Sheffield, who has not yet recorded a top-30 finish in 2022, carded five birdies and two bogeys in his 69.

“The physique’s good and this place lends itself to the sure golf pictures that we have been attempting to work on and attempting to hit,” he stated.

“It does not imply you are going to hit them clearly, but it surely’s at all times good when the sorts of stuff you’ve been working at repay.”

How did the remainder of the Britons get on?

England’s Lee Westwood and Tyrrell Hatton carded level-par 72s, while Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre, who finished 12th on his debut last year, shot a 73.

English pair Tommy Fleetwood (+3) and Justin Rose (+4) could face a battle to make the cut after disappointing opening rounds.

English newbie Laird Shepherd, who qualified after producing an amazing comeback to win the Amateur Championship, finished nine over on his debut.

Scotland’s 1988 champion Sandy Lyle, 64, props up the 90-man field after shooting an 82.

England’s Paul Casey pulled out of the tournament because of a back injury, shortly before he was due to tee off on Thursday.

Casey, 44, finished third in the Players Championship but suffered back spasms during the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play last month.

“The again points are persistent and thus stopping me from with the ability to compete,” he stated.

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