Tiger's Masters experience pays off as he matches best start

Augusta (United States) (AFP) –


Defending champion Tiger Woods matched his career-best Masters start on Thursday, hard-earned experience and solid form combining to put him in contention for a 16th major title.

The former world number one fired a bogey-free four-under par 68 to share fourth during a storm-delayed opening round at rain-softened Augusta National, three adrift of clubhouse leader Paul Casey.

"Did everything well. Drove it well, hit my irons well, putted well," Woods said. "Just understanding how to play this golf course was a big part of it."

Woods, who turns 45 next month, seeks a record-tying sixth green jacket and an 83rd career US PGA Tour victory to break the mark he shares with Sam Snead.

It would also pull him within two of the all-time record of 18 major titles won by Jack Nicklaus.

"I've been lucky enough to have so many practice rounds throughout my career with so many past champions," Woods said. "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 68, matching his best prior Masters start from 2010, was the first bogey-free major round for Woods since the 2009 PGA Championship and his first bogey-free round at Augusta National since 2008.

Woods attacked a soggy course to stay in the hunt but knows the course will change as drier weather arrives through the weekend.

"I got off to a fast start, which is good, but I think everyone is," Woods said. "Everyone is going low out there today. With these conditions, you have to. You have to be aggressive. There's no reason why you can't fire at a lot of the flags."

With no spectators allowed at the event due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Woods can hear the drying system under the greens trying to get the undulating putting surfaces closer to the lightning-fast form they typically offer in April.

"But this is the way the golf course is going to play for the next couple days," he said. "You can hear all the SubAir (drying) is on, so it'll be a little bit different."

Woods had one regret -- not making more putts.

"I wish I could have made a couple more putts," he said. "I missed everything on the high side. Putts just aren't moving, so it's just different with as slow as they are and then with the weather delay, the amount of rain they've had. The golf course is going to change a lot."

- Adjusting to changes -

Thick rough, unusual at Augusta, offers a challenge for errant shots.

"They haven't been able to put mowers on it, and it's high," Woods said. "Guys that drive the ball in the rough... you're going to have to rely on short game and angles."

As thrilled as Woods is to play Augusta National every year, the lack of fans and oddities such as noise from a camera drone made the atmosphere unique.

"There were a lot of differences," he said. "There was a drone flying over the putting green. Down one you could hear the drone over there. You don't hear drones here. There's no patrons, no roars.

"A lot of firsts today. That's kind of the way this entire year has been. The fact that we're able to compete for a Masters this year, considering all that has been going on, it's a great opportunity for all of us.

"This world we live in is not what we've had throughout my career, and that's something we're going to have to get used to for some time."