Red number day for Tiger Woods at Masters 2022 in professional return from accident

Tiger Woods pumps his fist after sinking a putt for a birdie on No. 16 during the first round of the Masters Tournament on Thursday at Augusta National Golf Club. Andrew Davis Tucker-Augusta Chronicle/USA TODAY Sports

Tiger Woods has such flair for the dramatic that he seldom disappoints. Right on cue, in one of the most unlikely performances of his career, he came through again in Thursday’s first round of the 86th Masters Tournament.

In his first stroke-play tournament in 17 months, and 13 months since a scary car accident left him bed-ridden for three months, Woods gutted out a 1-under-par 71 at Augusta National Golf Club to stand in the top 10.

Woods, who suffered injuries so severe to his right leg that there was a possibility of amputation at one point, is four shots off the lead held by Korea’s Sungjae Im, who birdied his first three holes and shot 67.

Im has a one-shot lead over Australia’s Cameron Smith. Those two players share some history — they tied for second place in the 2020 Masters, won by Dustin Johnson, who is chasing them now.

Sungjae Im plays his shot from the 18th tee during the opening round of the Masters. Im is in the lead, one shot ahead of Cameron Smith, whom he tied with at the end of the 2020 Masters. Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

Johnson shot 69 and is tied for third place with 2016 Masters champion Danny Willett, world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler and Joaquin Niemann.

Defending champ Hideki Matsuyama shot 72 and is tied for 18th place.

Woods had three birdies and two bogeys in his return to Augusta National. Last year at this time, he was bed-ridden after his single-car accident and watching Justin Rose shoot 65 to take a four-shot lead on TV.

“To finish in the red today after as long a layoff as I've had and not being in competitive golf — I don't really consider a scramble in the PNC (a father and son tournament in mid-December) it is competitive, but it's not like this. This is totally different.”

It helps having won this tournament five times in his 23 starts and playing 90 rounds in 102 under par with a scoring average of 70.87.

“I know where to hit it to a lot of these pins, and I miss in the correct spots and give myself good angles,” he said. “I did that all day, and I was able to make a few putts and end up in the red like I am now.”

'I'm right where I need to be': Tiger Woods thrilled after remarkable return to Augusta National

Woods is very much in contention after he battled his way around a damp and windy Augusta National Golf Club. Already the youngest winner here 25 years ago at age 21, he would be the oldest at 46 with a victory this week.

Woods called the combination of just being able to play and contend after one round a victory in itself.

“If you would have seen how my leg looked to where it's at now, the pictures - some of the guys know,” he said. “They've seen the pictures, and they've come over to the house and they've seen it. To see where I've been, to get from there to here, it was no easy task.”

Woods was also four shots behind after Round 1 of the 2019 Masters, in which he opened with 70. He went on to win his fifth green jacket and 15th major championship.

That year, he was coming back from another injury – the fourth to his back, which had been fused. Before that surgery, he thought his career might be over, but he came back to win the 2019 Masters and the ZoZo Championship five months later for his record-tying 82nd PGA Tour victory.

Thursday’s first round was another storybook day for Woods, who said he let the adrenaline kick in and got into “his little world” to block out the pain of walking the hilly Augusta National course as much as possible.

“I'm going to be sore, yes,” he said. “That's just the way it is. But the training cycles that we've had to make sure that I have the stamina to keep going – and this is only one round. We've got three more to go. There's a long way to go and a lot of shots to be played.”

Because of the severity of his leg injury, Woods has come to accept the fact walking “is going to be difficult for the rest of my life. That's just the way it is, but I'm able to do it.”

Limping more noticeably as the round went along, Woods kept his round together, shooting 1-under 35 on the second nine.

Fight at the finish: 18th hole takes down several contenders in 2022 Masters first round

After making a long birdie putt on No. 16 to get to 1-under, Woods parred No. 17 then saved his under-par round with a scrambling par on the 18th hole.

Woods received a standing ovation when he walked up the hill to the 18th green. After he rolled in a 10-footer to save par on the hole, he doffed his cap and breathed a sigh of relief before shaking hands with his playing partners and getting another standing ovation as he walked up the hill to the clubhouse.

“That's something I'm very lucky to have this opportunity to be able to play, and not only that, to play in the Masters and to have this type of reception,” Woods said. “I mean, the place was electric. I hadn't played like this since '19 when I won because in '20 we had COVID and we had no one here, and I didn't play last year. So, to have the patrons fully out and to have that type of energy out there was awesome to feel.”

Now, Woods has three more rounds to write more Masters history. His game plan is working so far.

“Well, I've been saving it, that's the thing,” he said of pacing himself during his recovery leading into the Masters. “I came up here (two weeks ago) as a test run to see if I could, and I was able to play, as I said in the press conference, 27 holes because we went and played the Par 3 Course. I felt good.

“The whole idea was to keep pushing but keep recovering, and that's the hard part is each and every night to recover, and I've been doing that,” he said. “My team's been incredible, getting me ready.”

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Smith played in the group in front of Woods. It was a twosome with Bryson DeChambeau after Paul Casey had to withdraw with a back injury before the round.

Cameron Smith talks with his caddie, Sam Pinfold, on the 18th hole Thursday. Smith double-bogeyed the hole and is in second place. Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

“Bryson and I played in the 2-ball today, so we had plenty of time waiting around. Yeah, you just can't not watch him,” Smith said of Woods. “It's an inspiration that he is coming back playing golf. Yeah, another good performance by him.”

Late Fireworks A Bit Of A Dud

After Woods finished his round in the early afternoon, Act Two of the tournament took center stage, led by Im.

Low scores and good golf were expected, since most of the top players were back-loaded in the first round. Fifteen of the top 20 players in the world were in the final four groups of the day, including Nos. 2-5.

So, it was a surprise that only Johnson, who is ranked No. 8, made a run into the top 10.

World No. 5 Patrick Cantlay had 70, No. 3 Viktor Hovland shot 72, No. 9 Rory McIlroy had 73 and No. 2 Jon Rahm had 74.

Im's 67 is the highest score to lead the first round since Bill Haas was out in front with 68 in 2014.

This article originally appeared on Augusta Chronicle: Masters 2022: Tiger Woods finishes below par in 1st round since injury