'I only came up here the last couple of years just to have food'

Golf News

After a major break of more than two and a half years, Tiger Woods was back in action and he was his old resilient self at Augusta, writes Mark Townsend

Despite the familiarity of our annual visit to Augusta National there are a few things that we are quick to forget.

While we all get carried away with the possibility of all the big guns blazing it round in 67 on day one the blunt reality is that Thursdays are generally low key, the course can be an absolute brute, half our betting hopes have had a line struck through them and you don’t spin your ball too much at the 15th.

One constant, whatever the weather or whatever the occasion, is that Tiger Woods will grind and grind and grind until his last putt has dropped.

Masters leaderboard

A 1-over 73 doesn’t sound like it should provide too much cause for optimism but this long-awaited return looked to be heading down a very different path at one point.

Woods turned in 37, no big dramas. He pulled his opening tee shot, his first competitive blow in any major since the PGA at Whistling Straits in 2015, but this has almost become de rigueur for him off the 1st tee.

The miss at 11 wasn’t so much a Big Miss rather a Gargantuan Block, finishing on a part of the course that isn’t even another hole, while at 12 he hit a weak shot that was always destined for Rae’s Creek.

So here we are with the player who every other player has been quizzed about all week, one of the pre-tournament favourites despite not having won since 2013 and who has only played a handful of tournaments in the past three seasons, looking like dribbling out of any sort of contention and possibly heading towards a fifth missed cut in his last six major starts.

And now facing a pitch across the water to a tightly-cut pin which looks like a certain double, maybe even a six, to follow the five at the previous hole where his recovery was stopped in its tracks by the spectators being a little too close to the action.

With the wind swirling around at 12, does it ever not, he gave himself a shot of 45 yards to maybe try and lessen the effect of any unwanted gusts.

Tiger Woods

Woods then walks off with a bogey courtesy of a 15-foot putt – interestingly only three of the last 21 winners have made any doubles/worse over the course of the week – and signs for that 73.

There were no birdies at any of the par 5s. At the 2nd he had a 6-iron in, the 8th a 2-iron while the back-nine assaults were undone by more shoved tee shots but he found birdies at 14, which was playing the hardest hole, and then 16, a hole he noted that ‘has been good to me over the years’.

Afterwards there was the usual hybrid of self-confidence – he’s won 14 majors and has 106 victories as a pro so let’s not question his words too much – but also a genuine affection for being back at work.

“I definitely didn’t score as well as I played. I hit the ball a little better than my score indicates,” Woods said. “This is a very bunched leaderboard and, by the end of the week, I think it’ll be a bit crowded.

“I played in a major championship again, I got myself back in this tournament and I could have easily let it slip away. I fought hard to get back in there and I’m back in this championship. There’s a lot of holes to be played.”

And then, a nice reminder that while this might be his 21st start in The Masters, it is easy to quickly forget where Tiger’s been in recent years.

“It felt great to be back out there again. I only came up here the last couple of years just to have food.”

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