The roars, and Tiger, return to Augusta

Monday May 25th, 2009

AUGUSTA, Ga. — After his first major championship round in almost a year, Tiger Woods walked across the shadows Thursday evening at Augusta National Golf Club and found a spot on the putting green. His caddie, Steve Williams, was waiting for him, and so was his coach, Hank Haney. There was work to do.

"Everyone was making birdies," Woods said after his round of two-under-par 70 at the Masters, and he meant everyone.

Larry Mize, age 50. Greg Norman, age 54. Even Gary Player, age 73.

"I knew [the course] could be had with good shots," said Woods, who trails leader Chad Campbell (65) by five shots. "Basically I was in position to shoot four-under. I just didn't get it done."

The first round of the 2009 Masters will be remembered as the day the roars came back to Augusta National, and the day Woods returned to a major for the first time since the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines last June. His round was a mixed bag. Drivers hit onto fairways and pine needles. Irons hit onto greens and into a picnic area.

It was his errant approach on 18 — over the green and into rows of lawn chairs — that led to a closing bogey that ended his chance of breaking 70 for the first time in the opening round of the Masters. Asked about that small shortcoming on a big resume, Woods was quick to respond: "That's how I've won [three green jackets], too."

Though he went to the practice green for a quick session before sundown, Woods didn't seem overly concerned about his putting stroke. Two weeks ago, at Bay Hill, he made nearly every putt of consequence, including the last one that brought him back from five shots down to claim victory.

On Thursday at Augusta, though, he didn't have the same magic.

"I had good pace, just didn't make any putts," he said. "I was hitting putts on my line, just got to read them a little bit better. If I hit bad putts it would be a totally different deal, but I hit good putts."

With warm temperatures and shorter tees, Augusta National offered eagles and birdies and doubles (oh my), and plenty of the old-time intrigue that used to be a staple here. In recent years cold weather and tough course set-ups had rendered Augusta National a grind. Criticism had mounted both from players, media and some fans. The course wasn't an absolute pushover Thursday, but the players noticed the favorable pin positions.

"There were a lot of cheers out there today," said Adam Scott, who shot a one-under-par 71. Said Miguel Angel Jimenez, fresh off his 70: "The greens are nice and juicy."

Neither Woods nor Phil Mickelson, who shot a one-over 73, took advantage of the favorable conditions, and they may not see them again. Friday's forecast calls for possible thunderstorms. Though the weekend calls for sunshine, Masters officials can turn the dials at any time and toughen the course in a blink.

"This course is only going to get harder and faster and the pins are only going to get tougher," said Hunter Mahan, who shot 66. "This was a great day to go out there and be aggressive. Weather wise, it was a perfect day."

Said Jim Furyk, who also shot 66: "There were some accessible pins out there, and places where you could get to the hole, and the greens were also somewhat receptive. Still, you have to be very, very patient. If you are firing at every pin and trying to make a bunch of birdies, it can bite you, as we know, very quickly."

On Friday, Woods will be out at 10:45 a.m. local time, knowing that he has to make a move. But if he felt a sense of urgency, it did not show. "We've got a long way to go," he said, before walking the path that leads to the practice green, where he would strike a few putts before dark.

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