AUGUSTA, Ga. — The Tiger Woods who has spent most of 2020 looking like anything but the reigning Masters champion settled into his comfortable place on Thursday, plotting his way around Augusta National with precision and posting his first bogey-free round in a major championship in more than a decade.
Unlike most of this pandemic-plagued year, in which Woods has battled back stiffness at times and a lack of tournament preparation throughout, the 15-time major champion and five-time Masters winner appeared at ease in familiar surroundings, shooting 4-under-par 68 to trail leader Paul Casey by three strokes.
It was the first time in 23 Masters appearances that Woods opened the tournament without a bogey.
“I did everything well,” said Woods, who matched his best opening round in his Masters career and for just the second time shot a first round in the 60s. “I drove it well, hit my irons well, putted well. The only real bad shot I hit today I think was on [No. 8]. I had a perfect number [68 yards] with a 60-degree sand wedge and hit it on the wrong shelf.
“Other than that, I just did everything well. The only thing I could say is that I wish I could have made a couple more putts. Missed everything on the high side. Putts just aren’t moving, so it’s just different with as slow as they are, then with the weather delay, the amount of rain they’ve had.”
Woods actually caught a break with the 2-hour, 57-minute delay that pushed back his starting time to nearly 11 a.m. A few groups began play before the horn sounded to signal dangerous weather conditions. Woods would have started and played a significant part of his first nine holes in the rain.
But when he teed off before a gathering of about 100 people on the 10th tee — including NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and former quarterback Peyton Manning, both Augusta National members — the sun was out and the air warm.
Getting used to a spectator-less environment is something that Woods is unlikely ever to adjust to, as he noted that several times players in the group had to ask television personnel where their golf balls landed.
For the most part, it was on the fairways and greens for Woods, who hit 10 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens. He lamented a few missed putts, and after birdieing both back-nine par-5s and the 16th to turn in 33, he added just one birdie on the front, a 20-footer at the first.
But he was unable to birdie either front-side par-5 and missed chances from inside 15 feet at the fourth, sixth and ninth holes. Still, it was the first time since the first round of the 2009 PGA Championship — a span of 105 rounds — that Woods did not make a bogey during a major championship.
And unlike his six other tournaments since the pandemic shutdown, Woods does not find himself battling well back of the leaders. “I think that understanding this golf course is so important,” he said.
Woods, 44, is playing with reigning Open champion Shane Lowry — who played with Woods for the first time — and 2019 U.S. Amateur champion Andy Ogletree, who started 4 over par through four holes but managed to shoot 73.
“He takes every shot seriously and hits every shot with a lot of integrity,” said Ogletree, who graduated from Georgia Tech in the spring. “I think he just has a focus level that’s unmatched out here. No shot goes unthought about. Every shot has a plan, and he executed really well.”
The tournament that was delayed seven months because of the coronavirus pandemic was delayed some more early Thursday morning after just a few players got their rounds started because of the bad weather. That means roughly half of the 92-player field finished the first round.
The first round will resume early Friday (7:30 a.m., ESPN), with the second round to follow. Woods, Lowry and Ogletree are expected to tee off in the afternoon and are unlikely to finish before darkness.
Woods was tied for fifth when play was suspended late Thursday afternoon. Casey led by two over Webb Simpson, Xander Schauffele and Justin Thomas (through 10 holes), with Woods three behind in an eight-way tie for fifth.