Tiger Woods’s quest for his fifth Masters Tournament title began with two errant shots that struck fans and ended with a 2-under-par 70 that left him four shots off the lead.
The world’s No. 1-ranked golfer had three birdies and a bogey yesterday at Augusta National Golf Club, where he is seeking to end an eight-year title drought. The opening round matched the second-lowest total of his 19 appearances at the event in Augusta, Georgia. Woods posted first-round scores of 70 en route to three of his four previous titles.
“It’s a good start,” Woods told reporters. “Some years, some guys shot 65 starting out here. But right now I’m only four back and I’m right there. It was a good day.”
Australia’s Marc Leishman, making his second Masters appearance, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia, a 15-time participant, lead at 6-under par, one shot ahead of American Dustin Johnson.
Fred Couples, 53, and 2008 winner Trevor Immelman are among a group of six players at 4 under. Couples, the tournament’s 1992 winner, bogeyed his final hole to fall two shots off the lead.
Among Woods’s gallery at the first of golf’s four annual Grand Slam events was Lindsey Vonn, his girlfriend and a six- time World Cup ski champion.
A three-time winner on the U.S. PGA Tour this season, Woods’s day began erratically. After a par on the opening hole, where his birdie putt from about 10 feet came up short and left of the cup, he struck the leg of a fan with his second shot on the next hole. He went on to make par, sinking a short putt after a long, curling chip from the back of the green.
He followed that with a tee shot on the par-4 third hole that knocked a beer cup out of a startled spectator’s hand on the left side of the fairway. Again, Woods was able to salvage a two-putt par.
After he birdied the par-3 sixth and par-5 eighth holes, course workers moved his name to the top of the leaderboard behind the ninth green though several players still had better scores. Woods glanced at the leaderboard as he walked to the 10th tee at the same time that three-time Masters winner Phil Mickelson was approaching the course’s nearby first tee.
Mickelson is at 1 under.
Woods’s third birdie came on the par-5 13th hole, giving him his 44th birdie in 71 Masters rounds on the hole, the most of any hole on the course. Though Woods’s early play was less than perfect, it didn’t diminish the support he received as he walked the course.
Along with Vonn, who wore a soft brace on her surgically repaired right knee, Woods’s gallery included Nike Inc. (NKE:US) Chairman and co-founder Phil Knight, who walked with Woods’s mother, Kultida, on his left arm, and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Vonn’s knee injury forced her to spend most of the day under a large oak tree behind the clubhouse among a group that included Mark Steinberg, Woods’s agent.
Woods, 37, has won his past two U.S. PGA Tour starts and has three victories this season to climb back atop the Official World Golf Ranking. Woods won the most recent of his four Masters titles in 2005 and hasn’t captured a major championship since claiming the 14th of his career at the 2008 U.S. Open.
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