Tiger battles through with clutch shots in Masters return

Augusta (United States) (AFP) –


Tiger Woods, unable to make birdies on the Augusta National par-5 holes he has dominated over the years, grinded his way through his long-awaited Masters comeback round Thursday.

With the world hoping to see one of the great injury comebacks in sports history, the 14-time major champion fired a one-over par 73 for a so-so start to his first major round since the 2015 PGA Championship and first Masters round in three years.

"It felt great to be back out there again. It's nice that I came out to play," Woods said.

"I could have easily let the round slip away from me but I got it back and I'm right back in this tournament."

Woods underwent four back surgeries, the latest a spinal fusion, to heal nagging health issues that left him wondering if he would ever walk without pain much less return to top-level golf.

But after two top-five finishes in tuneup events last month, Tigermania again buzzes at Augusta National, where Woods hopes to close the gap on the record 18 major titles of Jack Nicklaus.

Woods, a four-time Masters winner, has played Augusta national's back-nine par-5 holes, the 13th and 15th, in a combined 92-under par in prior starts and the front nine par-5s, the second and eighth, in a combined 58-under.

But Woods only managed four pars on them in round one, forcing him to gain his strokes on the field elsewhere.

"It was a day when the wind was puffing up, changing different directions. I didn't play the par-5s very well," Woods said.

"Yes, I played in a major championship again, but I fought hard to get it back in there and I'm back in this championship. There's a lot of holes to be played.

"By the end of the week this will be a pretty packed leaderboard the way the golf course is set up. They have it right where they want it."

Woods sank a 12-foot birdie putt at the par-4 third, then followed with back-to-back bogeys. He found the pine straw way right off the 11th tee on the way to a bogey and plunked a tee shot into Rae's Creek at the par-3 12th before making an epic 18-foot bogey save.

"It was very important. I just didn't want to drop it," Woods said. "I figured I had two par 5s ahead of me. We were anticipating just fighting our way back to even par. And I made that putt. And I didn't I didn't play either par-5 well. But I got two of them back coming in."

That's because Woods birdied the par-4 14th and par-3 16th holes, making up the ground he wanted despite par-5 parity.

- No nerves for Tiger -

Woods didn't blame nerves for his struggles in his major comeback moment, which saw holes lined 10-deep with spectators, who cheered him at every tee and became so quiet he could hear birds chirp when setting up to putt.

"I actually felt pretty good," Woods said. "My practice sessions have been really good. My play has been pretty solid. So the nerves really were just normal. I wasn't flying high. I wasn't jittery, I wasn't any of that stuff.

"I was very confident in what I was doing and I hit some good shots early. Unfortunately they just didn't continue."