The defending champion, vying for a record-tying sixth green jacket, rolled back the clock 19 months to the way he was playing in his drama-soaked fifth victory.
It was only Thursday, and he didn’t finish the day atop the leaderboard — Paul Casey did by shooting a seven-under-par 65 — but the 68 by Woods tied his best opening round in this storied tournament. Plus, for the first time, he had a bogey-free Thursday at Augusta National. He finished his day tied for fifth.
“I did everything well,” he said. “I drove it well, hit my irons well, putted well. … The only thing I could say is that I wish I could have made a couple more putts.”
As noted by ESPN, Woods had his third-best opening round as a defending champion in a major. The only better rounds were at the 2000 PGA Championship (eight under) and 2006 British Open (five under) — and he went on to win both.
Such a strange visual, Woods making his way around the world’s most exclusive golf course with no grandstands, no gallery, and followed by two dozen onlookers, mostly media. The day started with heavy rains that led to play stoppages, but turned to steamy heat by late morning.
“Down No. 1 today you could hear the drone over there,” Woods said of the new hovering camera angles. “You don't hear drones here. There's no patrons, no roars. Yes, as the camera guys would say, 'Where did the ball end up? Because we just don't know.’ That's very different.
“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's been going on, it's a great opportunity for all of us.”
To make up for approximately two hours less daylight, the Masters for the first time is utilizing a two-tee start in threesomes with morning and afternoon waves for the first two rounds. But with the rain delays Thursday, not everyone could finish his round before play was suspended.
Justin Thomas, for instance, was at five under through 10 holes, and will begin Friday in a three-way tie for second with Webb Simpson and Xander Schauffele.
Play to finish the first round will begin Friday at 4:30 a.m. Pacific. If there are no further delays, the second round is expected to begin at 6:45 a.m.
Larry Mize, 62, who won the Masters in 1987, had six birdies in the opening round and finished the day at two under.
“It would have been fun to make those six birdies in front of family and friends,” Mize said. “But I think — hopefully some of them were following me online and hopefully they enjoyed that.”
Casey’s 65 was 16 shots better than his first round in the Masters last year. That’s the biggest year-over-year improvement for the opening round in the history of the tournament.
When asked the reason for the wide disparity, Casey said: “I have no idea. I don't know. Just rubbish. But I played some decent golf in 2019 overall. Just not the first round of the Masters.”
Though he just made it through the front nine, Rory McIlroy ended the day with the top average drive (352.0 yards), and the much-discussed Bryson DeChambeau was tied for third with Justin Rose at 334.6.
DeChambeau, whose thundering drives have been the talk of the golf world, hammered some screaming shots into the Georgia pines.
“Not my best,” said the U.S. Open champion, who still salvaged a two-under 70 after making a double bogey on No. 13. “I got a little, I guess you could say tight. I wasn't comfortable with my golf swing. Normally when I'm really comfortable I can keep going faster and faster, and today I felt like I got a little tighter.”
It prompted a question: If a tree falls in the forest … did DeChambeau hit it?
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.