Tiger Woods struggles to opening 74 to lie nine shots off Masters lead
Five-time winner Tiger Woods battled “constant” pain in the first round of his 25th Masters as Jon Rahm staged a remarkable fightback at Augusta National.
Playing just his fifth competitive round of the year, Woods looked understandably rusty as he laboured to a 74 and was comprehensively outscored by playing partners Viktor Hovland and Xander Schauffele.
Hovland had the course record of 63 – shared by Nick Price and Greg Norman – in his sights before settling for an error-free 65, while Schauffele returned a 68 matched by former Open champion Shane Lowry and 2013 winner Adam Scott.
However, it was world number three Rahm who recorded the most impressive score of the day, the fiery Spaniard responding to four-putting the first with an eagle and seven birdies in his 65, equalling his lowest round at Augusta.
Four-time major winner Brooks Koepka, who won the most recent LIV Golf event in Orlando on Sunday, also shot 65 to share the lead, with Cameron Young and Jason Day two shots behind on five under.
“If you’re going to make a double bogey it might as well be on the first hole so you have 71 to recover,” said Rahm, who revealed he quickly took inspiration from the late Seve Ballesteros after his mishap.
“Walking to the second tee I remembered Seve’s quote when he was asked how can you four putt when you’re so good and he said ‘I miss, I miss, I miss, I make’.”
Rahm followed the double bogey with birdies on the second and third, eagled the eighth from just three feet and also birdied four of his last six holes, while Hovland’s eagle on the second and three birdies took him to the turn in 31.
“My game’s been feeling good, but to shoot a 65 bogey-free out here, some things have to go your way,” Hovland said.
“It’s not like you can just step up and have that handed to you. So I definitely had some things go my way today but also hit a lot of great shots.”
Koepka missed the cut in his last two starts at Augusta, but said he considered the previous two years “a write off” as he battled to recover from a shattered kneecap.
“I’ll spare everyone the details, it was pretty gruesome,” Koepka said.
“It’s probably the closest I can be to Tiger without his leg. I’m not saying it’s anywhere near his, but I understand how painful it is and how just mentally gruelling it is.
“If your body won’t allow you to do the things you want to do, it’s frustrating and all of a sudden you create a lot of bad habits which you have to get out of. When you break free, it’s kind of nice.”
There had been encouraging signs for Woods when the 15-time major winner split the fairway on the first hole and made a regulation par, but he was unable to birdie the par-five second after finding a bunker off the tee.
Woods then came up short of the third green with his approach and dropped his first shot of the day, while another shot went on the difficult fifth as he three-putted from long range.
The 47-year-old, who continues to be noticeably hampered by the severe leg injuries he suffered in a car accident in February 2021, also three-putted the seventh but almost holed his pitch shot to the par-five eighth to set up a welcome birdie.
After dropping a shot on the 11th, Woods also birdied the 15th and 16th before finishing his day with another bogey on the 18th after finding sand off the tee and with his second shot.
“Most of the guys are going low today. This was the day to do it,” said Woods, who admitted the pain from his right leg was “constant”. “Hopefully tomorrow I’ll be a little bit better, a little bit sharper, and kind of inch my way through it.
“This is going to be an interesting finish to the tournament with the weather coming in. If I can just kind of hang in there, maybe kind of inch my way back, hopefully it will be positive towards the end.”
American Kevin Na had struggled to a front nine of 40 before withdrawing due to illness, leaving playing partner Mike Weir, the 2003 champion, to complete the round alone.
Will Zalatoris also withdrew before the start of his round with a back injury.
Rory McIlroy was one over par with four holes to play, the world number two having surprisingly conducted an in-round interview while playing the ninth hole.
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