Opinion: Tiger Woods right where he wants to be after solid Masters first round

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Tiger Woods’ first round at the Masters was a steady and rather quiet curiosity. He made four birdies and two bogeys for a solid if not spectacular 70, the same score he shot in the opening round the first three times he won this tournament.

The roars that he heard on the course by and large were not for him, but that did not matter. When he made a three-foot putt to save par on the 18th hole, he knew that he was right where he wanted to be — at the time, one stroke off the lead. Woods has never led in the first round of the 21 previous Masters he has played, which is downright strange, but it also serves as a valuable lesson: there is no real point in leading right now.

“A good, solid day,” Woods called it, and that it was. There were no gasp-inducing mistakes, no thrown clubs, almost nothing to worry about.

“I felt like I played well and I did all the things I needed to do today to post a good number,” he said. “I drove it well, hit some good iron shots, speed was good on the greens.”

Tiger Woods, hitting his tee shot on the 18th hole, posted a 2-under 70 Thursday in the first round of the Masters. (Photo: Rob Schumacher, USA TODAY Sports)

His driver, so troublesome for so many months over the past few years, worked like a dream much of the day. He didn’t hit every fairway — only nine of 14 — but he was never in terrible trouble in the pines.

His putter was another story. Woods would have been able to shoot an opening round in the 60s for only the second time in his Masters career had he been able to make a few short putts.

After sinking a four-footer for birdie on the par-5 second hole, he missed a five-foot putt for par on the fifth hole after hitting into a bunker off the tee.

On the next hole, the par-3 sixth, Woods hit a beauty of an iron to within four feet, but missed the birdie putt. What looked like a developing trend ended quickly, however, with a vital five-foot par save from out of a greenside bunker on 7.

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Woods, 43, a four-time Masters champion who last won here in 2005, seemed to have an answer for every little problem that arose Thursday. He missed a nine-foot birdie putt on No. 8, but came right back to make a five-foot birdie on No. 9, as the crowds grew 10-deep and the cheers became louder, to make the turn at 1-under.

He soon held a share of the early lead at 3-under par. After three consecutive pars, Woods put on a show. He scratched one birdie out of Amen Corner on the par-5 13th, then produced the only true fireworks of the round with a curling, 25-foot birdie putt on 14 after hitting his drive into the pine trees.

[email protected] grabbed a share of the Masters lead with a birdie on No. 14.pic.twitter.com/AZbWesaxG3

He had to be thinking things were only going to get better as he was sitting pretty in the fairway on the par-5 15th, 231 yards to the pin, when he took out a 4-iron and pounded his second shot well over the green, dropping his head in disgust.

“Then the next shot was probably the hardest shot I had all day,” he said. “It was up on a root and I had to play short, I laid up on my chip to make sure I didn't catch the root and blade it in the water. So I laid up with a chip, had an easy little up‑and‑down from there and was able to move on with par.”

Two holes later, Woods was back in the pines right of the fairway leading to a missed 9-foot par putt for his last bogey of the round, dropping back to 2-under, where he ended the day.

“The whole idea is to try and peak for four times a year,” he said, “so I feel like my body's good and my game's good, it's sharp, so just got to go out there and execute and I got to do the proper things and if I do miss I miss in a proper spot."

Tiger-speak at its best.

“I feel very good. I feel like I played well today and I controlled my golf ball all day. I've shot this number and won four coats, so hopefully I can do it again.”

Actually, he has shot this number and won three of his four green jackets (he shot 74 in the first round in 2005), but who’s counting? It's only Thursday.

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