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Woods delights customers with Masters return – The Denver Post

By PAUL NEWBERRY

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — He walked among the azaleas with just the slightest hint of a limp.

He couldn’t quite bend down to read putts on Augusta National’s tricky greens.

Otherwise, there was no indication that Tiger Woods nearly lost his right leg 14 months ago in a devastating car crash.

Woods’ biggest comeback to date got off to an electrifying start on Thursday when he shot a 1-under 71 in the first round of the Masters.

“To finish in the red,” he said confidently, “I’m exactly where I need to be.”

As Woods walked briskly back to the clubhouse after a grueling day that stretched nearly 5 1/2 hours, he heard shouts of “Way to go, Tiger!” spectators.

He was just three strokes off the lead – with around half the field still on the course – after netting three birdies, a pair of bogeys and plenty of solid pars – many of which were salvaged by his skillful touch around greens.

Woods pulled off a final Houdini act at No. 18. After firing his tee shot into the towering pines on the right, he had to stop short of the green.

But he threw 6 feet and rolled into the putt to keep his score below par.

“I felt good,” Woods said. “Once the adrenaline kicked in and I entered my little world, I knew I should be able to handle business.”

Yes, there is still a long way to go. Woods has yet to prove his body can bounce back day in and day out – four of them, should he make it to Sunday.

But it felt like he was already a winner.

“You just can’t look at him,” said Australian Cameron Smith, among those tied for the lead after shooting a 68. “It’s inspiring that he’s coming back and playing golf. .”

With stormy clouds giving way to bright spring sunshine, Woods defied all expectations.

Except his.

When Woods delivered an emphatic right fist grip after rolling in a 30-footer for a birdie on the 16th hole, it felt like the good old days on one of golf’s most hallowed courses.

From the collapse of her marriage to multiple surgeries, Woods has always found a way to bounce back.

He does it again, looking very much like the guy who won five green jackets and defied the odds time and time again.

A birdie tap-in at No. 6 sent patrons into a frenzy. A sloppy bogey at the par-5 eighth brought groans, but Woods’ brilliant short game kept him from posting one of those big numbers that can be catastrophic in Augusta.

He made it clear he intended to win when he decided to make the Masters his first competitive tournament since that horrific car crash in February 2021 led him to say doctors said his leg right may have to be amputated.

Woods started the round with five straight pars — he narrowly missed a birdie at the tricky No. 5 hole when a 15-foot putt fizzled — before delivering a vintage tee shot at the par-3 sixth.

The ball climbed a ridge on the green and came to rest 2 feet from the flagstick, leaving Woods with a gimme that put him in red numbers for the first time.

A corner and an errant chip led to a bogey at No. 8, a hole that should be a great birdie opportunity. “A loss of concentration there,” he moaned.

But Woods bounced back with a tricky 8-foot run to save the par at No. 9.

Woods insisted his hands still held the incredible touch that helped him win 15 major titles – the first of them 25 years ago on this very spot – and claim a record 82 wins over the PGA Tour.

Starting at No. 7, he missed the green on five consecutive holes but continued to recover with his short irons and putter.

Dressed in a pink shirt and black pants, Woods was greeted with thunderous applause when his name was announced in a huge gallery surrounding the first tee.

Woods failed to make solid contact with his first shot: a 264-yard drive that faded behind a bunker on the right side of the fairway. His approach rolled across the front of the green, but he sank a 10-foot putt to save par, prompting another huge roar from the patrons.

Woods walked slowly, knowing he would face a tough four days on an extremely hilly course if he manages to make the cut.

He couldn’t fully bend down to read putts, forcing him to rely more on caddy Joe LaCava to help him judge the treacherous greens at Augusta National.

But those seemed like minor inconveniences after everything he’s been through.

Woods’ career was in jeopardy after the car accident left him confined to a hospital bed for three months. Woods was out of the public eye until last November, when he posted a video of him swinging a club with a simple message, “Make progress.”

His only tournament in the 508 days since his last competition was a just-for-fun event in December in which he rode in a cart and was paired up with his 13-year-old son, Charlie.

Despite the long layoff and obvious physical limitations with screws and rods holding the bones in place in his right leg, Woods clearly believes he can earn his sixth green jacket.

At 46, he would be the oldest Masters champion by three weeks ahead of Jack Nicklaus.

The bigger question is how Woods holds on for more than 18 holes over four straight days, assuming he pulls it off like he always does in Augusta.

He completed 18 holes last week – his first big test – on a reconnaissance trip with his son.

Playing an entire tournament will be much more difficult.

And now?

“Lots of ice cream,” he said with a big smile.

Like the good old times.

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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More AP Masters: https://apnews.com/hub/the-masters



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