Woods returns to golf at the Masters

Updated: 2010-04-09 06:51
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AUGUSTA, Georgia - Tiger Woods started the Masters with two straight pars before making a short birdie putt at the third hole in one of the most scrutinized opening rounds in golf history on Thursday.

Woods returns to golf at the Masters
Tiger Woods makes his way to the first tee with caddie Steve Williams during the first round of the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Ga. on Apirl 8, 2010. [Agencies]

Four more pars followed, leaving him at 1 under and solidly in contention on a blustery first day at Augusta National.

No was sure what to expect from the four-time Masters champion, returning to competitive play for the first time since a November night car wreck led to revelations of numerous extramarital affairs.

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Woods heard nothing but cheers, though a small plane flew overhead pulling a banner with a catty word play on Buddhism, his religion, in reference to the scandal.

Nothing, however, was going to overshadow the world's greatest player returning from an astonishing downfall and five-month layoff, not even Phil Mickelson tied for the top spot on the leaderboard and another turn-back-the-clock performance by Tom Watson.

Flashing a smile at the opening tee, Woods hit his opening drive into the fairway and put his second shot within about 15 feet of the cup, but his birdie attempt curled just wide.

About the time Watson was finishing, Woods took another par at No. 2, knocking his second shot over the green, against the edge of a bunker. A high wedge didn't spin back as much as he would have liked, and a testy downhill putt for birdie wasn't close.

But he bounced back at No. 3, the shortest par-4 hole on the course. Woods knocked his second shot to 5 feet and rolled in the birdie.

"Make us proud!" a fan yelled.

Woods was in the next-to-last group, playing with K.J. Choi and Matt Kuchar. There was some question whether there would be a rain delay as skies darkened and the wind gusted up to 22 mph (35 kph) ahead of an approaching storm front.

The 60-year-old Watson, who nearly became the oldest major winner in golf history at last year's British Open, showed that wasn't a fluke. He grabbed the clubhouse lead with a 5-under 67, tying his best round at Augusta.

The last time he did it was 20 years ago. Watson closed with a 5-foot birdie putt at the tough 18th hole, set up by a brilliant iron shot that skipped along the right side of the green, caught the ridge and turned back toward the flag.

"What made the day so worthwhile was having my son Michael caddie for me," Watson said. "I wanted to shoot a good score for Michael."

Mickelson was among three other morning starters who matched Watson's 67, joined by reigning u.s. PGA Championship winner Y.E. Yang and Lee Westwood of England, seeking his first major title.

Mickelson had a blistering eagle-birdie-birdie set starting at the par-5 13th, and his score could have been even lower. He missed birdie tries of about 10 feet at No. 16 and a 5-footer at the 18th.

Anthony Kim endured a wild back side on his way to a 68. He started with three straight bogeys, made an eagle at 13, another bogey at the 14th, then closed with three straight birdies. His only par after the turn came at No. 16.

David Toms, who failed to qualify for the Masters a year ago, returned with a 69. Defending Masters champion Angel Cabrera got off to a strong start with a 3-under 33 at the turn, but a double-bogey 7 at the 13th sent him tumbling to a 73.