Strange sight at unusual Masters: Tiger Woods goes low in first round

Tiger Woods watches his ball as he misses a birdie putt on the eighth hole during the first round of the Masters golf tournament Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Tiger Woods watches his ball as he misses a birdie putt on the eighth hole during the first round of the Masters golf tournament Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Credit: Charlie Riedel

Credit: Charlie Riedel

Weather delayed the Masters soon after it started, which made it seem like many others. Just about everything else was different. There were no galleries, less color in the foliage, golfers starting on the 10th hole and a low number for Tiger Woods.

Woods shot a 4-under par 68 on Thursday at Augusta National Golf Club. That matched his best opening score at the Masters. It’s only the second time he’s broke 70 in round one. Woods is three shots behind Paul Casey.

We’re accustomed to seeing Woods sputter at the start by his standards at the Masters before reeling in the field. Four of his Masters victories, including 2019, came after opening-round 70s. Woods shot 74 in the first round in 2005 before winning a playoff against Chris DiMarco.

Woods finished fourth after opening with a 68 in 2010. Could this be the first time Tiger roars from the start and goes on to win? There are three rounds left, but Woods regularly goes low in those.

He shot better than 70 eight times in the second round, nine times in the third and seven times in the final round. If Woods can add his usual finishing kick to his unusually strong start, then a sixth Masters championship at age 44 is possible.

“I got off to a fast start today, which is good, but I think everyone is,” Wood said via pool report. “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.”

Woods posted his first bogey-free round in his past 106 at major championships. The last time he did it was the opening round of the 2009 PGA Championship. Woods didn’t win, the first time he failed to do so when leading a major after 54 holes.

Woods made 20 previous appearances at the Masters as a professional. He was among the top 10 players on the leaderboard after round one just four times. His first-round record at Augusta wouldn’t be so bad for most golfers. This is a major, after all.

But it’s inexplicable for a guy with five green jackets to so often play below his standards at the start. On Tuesday, Woods said he couldn’t explain it.

“It’s just one of those weird things I haven’t put together, and the second and thirds round were usually where I made my hay and got myself back into the event or taken the lead in the event,” Woods said Tuesday.

Woods won’t have to get back in this tournament. He’s already there. That should increase the weirdly subdued buzz around the defending Masters champion and the most popular golfer ever.

That can be explained by poor recent results, including a missed cut at the U.S. Open. Woods wasn’t among the pretournament favorites to win. The 2019 Masters victory stands as his only major championship since 2008.

There’s been more focus on Bryson DeChambeau, the U.S. Open winner in September. He was looking to overpower Augusta with long drives. DeChambeau had the largest contingent of media and permitted spectators when he teed off. They watched him spray it around the course en route to a two-under 70 while Woods enjoyed a low-stress day.

Woods was 3-under after nine holes, birdied the next one and then strung together eight straight pars to finish.

“I did everything well,” Woods said. “I drove it well, hit my irons well, putted well.”

It wasn’t a hot start for Woods. He teed off at No. 10, where he got up-and-down to save par. He left a 35-foot putt for birdie short at No. 11 and two-putted from 22 feet at No. 12. Woods tallied his first birdie at the par-5 13th, but that came after an approach shot that he didn’t like.

Woods pleaded with the ball to go while it was in the air. It cleared the water, a tributary to Rae’s Creek, and stayed put on the front of the soft green. Woods smiled at getting away with one, then two-putted from 46 feet for birdie.

At the par-5 15th, Woods sent his second shot over the green then got up and down for birdie. At the par-3 16th, Woods hit his tee shot from 162 yards away to within two feet of the hole. And at No. 1 he stuck his approach shot 20 feet below the hole and made the putt.

That birdie placed Woods among a group of players at 3-under par, one shot behind leader Webb Simpson. The moment inspired a familiar fist pump from Woods. It was strange to hear polite applause from the few people around the green instead of the “Tiger roar” of normal times.

That wasn’t the only weird scene at the Masters during a pandemic.

“There was a drone flying over the putting green,” Woods said. “Down (at No. 1) today you could hear the drone over there. You don’t hear drones here.”

Woods couldn’t get closer to the lead as Paul Casey got separation from the field with an eagle, five birdies and two bogeys for a 7-under 65. Simpson, the 2012 U.S. Open champion, was one shot behind Casey. Patrick Reed, the 2018 Masters champion, was among four golfers tied with Woods who finished their opening round.

A very good round for Woods could have been spectacular with better putting.

“The only thing I could say is that I wish I could have made a couple more putts,” Wood 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.”

Woods didn’t putt well. He still shot 68 in the first round at the Masters. That’s nearly as strange as quiet interrupted by light clapping and hovering drones.

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