With the stands of Augusta National Golf Club following his every move, Tiger Woods celebrated his long-awaited return to competitive golf, shooting a 1-under par 71 in the first round of the Masters yesterday while South Korea’s Sungjae Im topped the Leaderboard with 5 under 67.
I made an eagle and five birdies to counter two bogeys, beating early wave clubhouse leader Cameron Smith of Australia in one shot.
World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, 2020 Masters Champion, Dustin Johnson, 2016 Champion, Danny Willett of England, and Joaquin Niemann of Chile finished third with rounds of 3 under 69. Patrick Cantlay, Jason Kokrak and Corey Conners of Canada tied for seventh place 2-under 70 after shooting.
Woods’ 71 was good for a tie for 10th place, a feat in itself as he played in his first official event since being injured in a car accident on February 23, 2021. After rehab on his right leg that required multiple surgeries, Woods returned to the sport 15 years to the day after his first major win, a 12-stroke win at the 1997 Masters.
His highlight was the sixth par 3 right after he landed a 15-foot birdie attempt on the previous green. He hit a 6 iron, placed his tee shot 2 feet from the pin and tapped in for his first birdie of the day.
Woods bogeyed the par 5 for an eighth after his third shot missed the green. He converted a two-putt birdie on the par-5 13 before his drive shot on the next hole missed the left fairway badly and he was unable to come up and down for par.
On the par-3 16th, the 15-time major champion deflated a 29-foot birdie that swept right-to-left and unleashed his signature fist jab. He returned with the putt on 1 under and saved par on the last two holes, even after a drive into the trees on 18.
“People have no idea how hard it was,” Woods said. “My team does. You worked with me every day. I’ve said this before, we haven’t taken a day off since I got out of bed after those three months. … So it’s a commitment to getting it back and a commitment to getting back to a level where I feel like I can still make it. I did something positive today.
Im, the 2020 Masters runner-up, shagged his first three holes and added a fourth at #7. After missing par putts on both 10 and 11, he completed Amen Corner by hitting the 13th green in two and making his 12-footer for Adler.
I added a yardie on the 15th and almost holed out of a greenside bunker for a yardie on the 18th. His shot hit the cup and stayed just inches outside.
Im is the first player from South Korea to lead a round in Masters history.
“I’m excited and happy and excited for the hot start but I want to be humble and I’ve got three days left to play so I just want to stay calm and hopefully move on,” Im said through an interpreter.
Smith, who won the Players Championship last month and moved up to sixth in the official world golf rankings, signed an unusual card: double bogey 6s on the first and last holes with eight birdies in between. Smith reached 6 under with a series of three birdies at 14-16 and almost went to the clubhouse with a three shot lead on the field.
But after an erratic tee shot at No. 18, his second shot hit a branch and only traveled 80 yards. He hit the green in three-pointers and three-pointers.
Smith said he remained patient after his tough opening hole.
“I love this place. I know he offers a lot of birdies,” Smith said. “I just had to really get going.”
Niemann played with Woods and potted for an eagle 2 in ninth place from 105 yards. His shot spun back over an edge and straight to the flag. That gave him a brief 3 under solo lead, and he had a bogey and a birdie the rest of the way.
Scheffler made consecutive birdies at places 8 and 9 in his first tournament since becoming world No. 1 before sinking a 19-foot birdie on the par-3 12 to join the co-leaders at 3-under. He reached 4 under with another birdie on par-3 17, but missed the green on 18 and couldn’t pace for par.
Johnson made all four of his birdies over the first 10 holes before bogeying on #17 and making a difficult up-and-down par save on #18.
Defending champion Hideki Matsuyama from Japan opened with a straight par 72.
Shane Lowry admitted he might have wanted too much to win after a bad day left him on 73 with his short irons. The Clara man was robbed of a hole-in-one on the fourth hole, where he jammed his four-iron into the cup, but saw his ball headed for a one-over-73 that might have been a three or four shots would have been better, bounced off the cup and off the green.
It was also a case of what could have been for Pádraig Harrington, who was two under par on four holes but signed for two over 74s. The Dubliner (50) missed a six-footer on the first and a 12-footer on the second, but missed the third birdie and long par-3 fourth from four feet to take the early lead.
He caught three putts on the fifth, made a 67-foot bogey up the hill on the sixth, followed by a bogey on the seventh and a birdie 4 on the eighth to get to the one-under.
But when the wind picked up, he came home with a three as he missed a four-foot for par after finding sand long on the 12th, then putting three on the 16th from 40 feet and another shot with a weak chip had thrown on 17.
Seamus Power also shot a 74 on his very first round in the Masters, while Rory McIlroy made a clutch sand save on the final round when he went six shots short of leader Im with a 73.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/golf/us-masters/im-top-of-leaderboard-after-day-1-at-augusta-41532662.html After Day 1 in Augusta I’m at the top of the rankings