Tiger Woods returned to the acid test of Augusta National on Thursday with a one-over par 73 in the first round of the Masters, declaring the experience “awesome”.
The 42-year-old, who calls himself a walking miracle less than 12 months after spinal fusion surgery, produced a pair of top-five finishes on the PGA Tour to fuel expectations that he could seize a fifth green jacket — and a 15th major title — this week.
But Woods endured his share of frustrations in his first Masters appearance since 2015 — an absence of a total of 1,089 days.
“This course will test you,” Woods said. “I haven’t played shots like this for a while.”
The 14-time major winner thrilled an enthusiastic gallery with a 10-foot birdie at the third.
But he followed with back-to-back bogeys at the fourth and fifth as he made the turn one-over.
There was more trouble lurking around Amen Corner, where Woods was right off the tee at 11 and his recovery effort squirted right as well en route to another bogey.
A dip in Rae’s Creek at 12 cost him a shot, but he pulled strokes back at 14 and 16 and produced two crisp tee shots at 17 and 18 as he capped his round with a pair of pars.
Woods, who carded a first-round 74 in 2005 on the way to his most recent Masters title, was five off the pace set by
Sweden’s Henrik Stenson and American Charlie Hoffman when he walked off the course.
Former champion Zach Johnson, Austrian Bernd Wiesberger and Australian Marc Leishman were the leaders in the clubhouse on two-under 70.
Leishman, who played alongside Woods, thrived in the spotlight, moving to four-under thorugh 13 holes before finding the water at the par-five 15th on the way to a double bogey.
“We had a good day out there,” Leishman said. “It’s nice playing in front of big crowds, on a stage like this, on a day like today.
“I looked at it as a positive and preparation for later in the week,” he said of playing with Woods. “Hopefully we’re both there on Sunday afternoon.”
While Tiger has drawn the lion’s share of attention this week, the field is packed with an array of in-form players.
An eagle at the par-five eighth took 2015 winner Jordan Spieth to two-under at the turn.
Five-time major-winner Phil Mickelson, his sights set on a fourth green jacket at the age of 47, was at even par through nine holes.
Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, seeking to complete a career Grand Slam with a first Masters title, was one-under through eight.
Spain’s Sergio Garcia, however, endured a nightmare start in his bid to join Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus as the only players to successfully defend the Masters crown.
Garcia matched the most strokes needed on any hole in Masters history with his 13 at the par-five 15th — where he hit five consecutive balls in the water.
Tommy Nakajima at the par-five 13th in 1978 and Tom Weiskopf in 1980 on the par-three 12th have also seen 13s on their Masters scorecards.
Garcia signed for a nine-over par 81 tied with amateur Matt Parziale, the Massachusetts firefighter who gained a Masters berth with a win in the Mid-Amateur championship.
The 54-hole strokeplay tournament will see 72 of the best amateur players in the world compete over two rounds at Champions Retreat golf Club in Augusta, with the leading 30 players then contesting the final round at Augusta National on the Saturday before the Masters.
Asked if an event for professional players had been considered, Ridley told a pre-tournament press conference: “The focus on amateur golf is consistent with our history and our co-founder Bobby Jones and we feel that’s the way we can make the greatest impact in growing the game.
“We thought that’s the best way to go, but over time we think it will also be of great benefit to the professional game as well.”
The announcement was warmly welcomed, with six-times Masters champion Jack Nicklaus writing on Twitter: “Fantastic! This is a great thing for the game of golf!”
With all due respect to @themasters, allow me to put my 6 Green Jackets in the closet for a moment and say that I don’t know if I have had a more special day on a golf course. To have your grandson make his first hole-in-one on this stage.... WOW! #Family #memoryofalifetime pic.twitter.com/3TSLwlV0m9— Jack Nicklaus (@jacknicklaus) April 4, 2018
The tournament is scheduled to take place in the same week as the ANA Inspiration, the first women’s major of the year, but Ridley added: “We have no intentions of competing or taking away from the ANA Inspiration.
“We think that to have one week where the future greats of the game and the current greats of the women’s game are all competing on a big stage is very exciting.
“I’ve talked to Mike Whan (LPGA commissioner) and he understands our motivations for doing this and that from a big picture, this is a win for women’s golf. He also understands that in time it’s going to be a win for the LPGA.”
The field for the tournament will be determined by the winners of various worldwide events – including the Ladies’ British Open Amateur Championship and Girls’ British Open Amateur – and the Women’s World Amateur golf Ranking.
The winner will not receive a green jacket, like Masters champions, but Ridley added: “We plan to have a very distinctive trophy that will become iconic as well – we just don’t know what it is yet.”
Augusta National admitted its first women members – former American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and business executive Darla Moore – in 2012.
That came a decade after activist Martha Burk stepped up pressure on the club to admit women, to which then chairman Hootie Johnson responded that they would not be forced to change its policies “at the point of a bayonet”.
South African golfer and 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel has partnered with fashion brand Michael Kors to be the company’s global ambassador.
The partnership will feature Schwartzel as the brand’s first golf ambassador wearing Michael Kors apparel throughout his worldwide tour appearances, including the PGA, European and Sunshine tour events.
“I am honored to be working with Michael Kors and representing one of the world’s leading luxury brands,” said Schwartzel. “Michael Kors sportswear provides the perfect combination of fit, form and function while I’m competing. I’m also excited to collaborate with the company on the development of their sportswear, providing input on performance features to be incorporated into the line.”
“Charl has reached the pinnacle of achievement in the game of golf and his exceptional career is the reason why he is the perfect ambassador for Michael Kors,” said John D. Idol, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Michael Kors Holdings Limited. “Not only is Charl one of the most accomplished players on the tour but he represents the timeless values as well as the traditions of the sport. We are proud that he will represent us both on and off the course.”
Michael Kors is a fashion designer of luxury accessories and ready-to-wear clothing. His namesake company, established in 1981, currently produces a range of products including clothing, accessories, footwear, watches, and a full line of fragrance products.