AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Tiger Woods once claimed that he healed himself on national television at Augusta National Golf Club. It happened during the final round of the 2015 Masters on the 9th hole. Woods said a bone in his wrist popped out and he just ... popped it back into place. There was no physical ailment apparent for Woods on Thursday in Round 1 of the 2020 Masters, however this golf course yielded a similar balm for a game that for Tiger has been a bit of a mess so far this year.
Woods has just one top 10 finish this year, and the only momentum he brought into this week was the fact that he was the defending champion, having won the Masters in epic fashion 19 months ago. He was even nostalgic this week, not something Tiger normally displays. Woods discussed how he thought about how having the green jacket over the last year and a half could be the last time he ever takes it off the property at Augusta National.
Or ... maybe not.
After a Wednesday practice round with two past champions in which his swing looked lithe and his demeanor was upbeat, Woods went out and shot a 4-under 68 on Thursday with a clean, bogey-free card. He's three back of the early lead (held by Paul Casey) but in unfamiliar territory for him through 18 holes at the Masters.
Woods has only shot a 68 on one other occasion in an opening round at the Masters, but every time he's been at 70 or better (six in all), he's finished in the top six of the leaderboard. All five of his victories have started with an opening-round 70.
It sounds like it's time to buckle in for what could be another full-on week of Tiger Woods running up and down Augusta.
"It was good all around. I drove it well, hit my irons well and putted well. There's really nothing that, looking back on it, that I could have done a little bit better. Obviously I could have made a few more putts," he told ESPN after the round. "... There is a sense of ease when I come here just because I understand how to prepare for this golf course, and there's no other major championship that plays [in the same location] every year. ... There's nothing I felt like I did poorly. Looking forward to whenever I play [Friday] sometime."
Statistically, Woods was not long, but he was good. He hit 10 of 14 fairways and pounded 15 greens in regulation. He didn't put himself in bad spots, and if there's such a thing as a stress-free 68 at Augusta, he shot it.
After making birdies at Nos. 13, 15 and 16 (Woods started the day at No. 10), he poured a long one in on the first hole. After that, he steadied his round before giving himself one last look for birdie on the 9th, which he narrowly missed.
Again, there was no tell here. Nothing about Tiger's game said he was going to open hot at Augusta, much less that he would post his first bogey-free round at a major after 105 rounds of being unable to accomplish that feat.
|Bogey-free opening rounds||Score||Finish|
2000 U.S. Open
2000 Open Championship
2009 PGA Championship
This is the brilliance of Woods at Augusta National. He knows how to avoid the misses, knows where the leaves should be. When his irons are cooperating as they were on Thursday, the scores are there.
That's also the brilliance of Augusta. It gives and takes away, but to those who can solve its mysteries and not overextend themselves, it often delivers the scores you want.
"I think that understanding how to play this golf course is so important," said Woods. "I was saying there that I've been lucky enough to have so many practice rounds throughout my career with so many past champions, and I was able to win this event early in my career and build myself up for the understanding that I'm going to come here each and every year.
"The fact that this tournament is played on the same venue each and every year ... understanding how to play it is a big factor, and it's one of the reasons why early in my career that I saw Jack [Nicklaus] contending a lot, I saw Raymond [Floyd] contending late in his career. Now Bernhard [Langer] and Freddy [Couples] always contend here late in their careers. Just understanding how to play this golf course was a big part of it."
Last year's final round -- which led to Woods' 15th major victory -- was a lesson in wisdom and defense. Tiger didn't make mistakes, but he also didn't really score. This year, in Round 1, he did. It was a lesson in picking your spots and playing offense but not trying to do too much.
Woods almost always plays well on this golf course. That's not a surprise to anyone. In 2015 -- the year he healed himself in the final round -- he hadn't even played golf at all in several months and still finished in the top 20.
Tiger can will and think himself around Augusta National like few ever have. And when the swing is fluid and he's working the ball like he did on Thursday, well, years like 2019 and achievements like capturing another green jacket -- and tying Jack Nicklaus for the all-time record with six -- suddenly feel awful attainable.