Augusta, Ga. — The first standing ovation came on the practice range.
There was more applause when he strolled to the 18th green, though most of the patrons stayed in their fold-out seats.
Tiger Woods is back at the Masters.
Just not in the position so many of his fans were hoping he would be.
Woods plodded through an unspectacular opening round on Thursday, settling for a 1-over 73 that left him far off the lead but still feeling good about his chances.
Considering the buildup that accompanied his first competitive round at Augusta National since 2015 , it might’ve seemed like a bit of a letdown.
Not to Woods.
“I could have easily let the round slip away from me, but I got it back,” he said, brimming with that bravado of old. “And I’m right back in this tournament.”
When Woods stepped to the first tee on a sunny, brisk morning, the patrons finally heard the words they’ve missed out on at the last two Masters.
“Fore, please. Tiger Woods now driving.”
The cheers could be heard throughout the course .
“I was pretty sure they weren’t feeling anticipation about me,” quipped Tommy Fleetwood, who joined Woods in a threesome that also included Marc Leishman. “But, yeah, you could definitely feel it.”
Dressed in black from head to toe, Woods tried to approach his first shot like any other.
“Hit a little fade up the left side,” he thought.
The ball wound up in the trees left of the fairway.
“It didn’t fade,” Woods said with a sly grin.
He struggled on the par-5s, which are normally his bread and butter at Augusta.
He wasn’t complaining.
After all he’s been through – the surgeries, the personal troubles, the lingering doubts that he’d ever be able to compete again for major championships – just being out on the course, once again at the center of the golf universe, made him feel like a winner.
Two birdies over the final five holes helped his mood, too.
“A 73 is fine,” Woods said.
“By the end of the week, this will be a pretty packed leaderboard the way the golf course is set up. They have it right where they want it.
“It’s really hard to run away from it, but it’s also really easy to lose it out there. By the end of the week there will be a bunch of guys with a chance to win this tournament.”