Tiger Woods' opening-round score of two-under-par 70 doesn't reflect how well he played Thursday in the 77th Masters at Augusta National.
Woods posted a clean scorecard on his front nine—seven pars and two birdies—to shoot a two-under 34. On the back nine, he simply couldn't buy a putt, carding just a single birdie despite giving himself many viable opportunities.
The No. 1-ranked player in the world entered Augusta with more momentum and confidence than any player in the field, winning three of five events this season and six of his last 20 PGA Tour starts overall. Additionally, his record at the Masters is nearly unmatched: 18 starts, 12 top-10 finishes and four green jackets.
Marc Leishman shot the best, and most surprising, round of the day with a six-under, leaving Tiger just four shots off the lead. The truth is, even if Tiger were 10 shots back, he'd still have a say in this championship. The Masters is his bread and butter, his favorite course in the world and the major he wants to win most.
Read on and take a deeper dive into the specific elements of Tiger's game from Round 1.
Tiger blended sensational lag-putting and confident strokes on quick, short putts to thrive on Augusta's challenging greens. He needed just 28 putts to shoot a 70.
Augusta's greens are so fast that players might as well be putting on a tabletop. Yet Tiger putted beautifully Thursday.
His wealth of experience on this course—18 years of competition—paired with his affinity for speedy greens gave him a distinct advantage. On the front nine especially, Woods converted crucial par saves and a pair of excellent birdies.
The back nine was a bit of a different story.
While he missed a few critical putts, notably a par putt on 14 and a birdie putt on 15, the most important takeaway from his round was his thorough grasp of green speed. No one conquers Augusta's greens, but rather, you have to manage them because of the difficult mix of speed and slope.
Woods managed the greens very well in Round 1 and can ride that momentum into Friday.
Tiger's distance off the tee was an advantage (301-yard average), but accuracy is at a premium on such a difficult track like Augusta National. For the most part, Woods was in control with his drives, hitting eight out of 13 fairways.
Considering Augusta is over 7,400 yards long, it's undeniably a bomber's paradise in which the old saying "grip it and rip it" rings true. But at the same time, one must drive with caution.
A good deal of the fairways are tree-lined, narrow and the severe slope of the fairways can make a drive that starts straight down the middle settle in rough or pinestraw. Woods swung his driver well enough to give himself multiple opportunities to play aggressive iron shots, and you can't ask for much more in a major championship.
Woods could've shot a lower score, but not because of his driving performance, so this is an element of his game he should walk away proud of after Round 1.
Lastly, it was refreshing to see Woods use his new 3-wood a few times Thursday, showing he's cognizant of how important it is to be conservative on some of Augusta's most treacherous holes. If he continues driving this way and can get his putter rolling, Woods is sure to be in contention come Sunday.
Woods' distance control with his irons began terribly.
He opened his round with five straight pars, but if you were watching, you'll know that they could have all been bogeys or worse had it not been for his remarkable touch on and around the greens.
Distance control is usually one of Woods' strengths, but Thursday he found himself just about everywhere in those opening holes except for the greens. With adrenaline peaking from the pressure of a major championship, even a competitor as accomplished and resilient as Tiger Woods makes mistakes.
Unlike any other course these players compete on, Augusta National demands precision through distance control. It plays an especially larger role because the putting greens are quite large and the landing zones based on pin placement are tiny.
After those opening five holes, Woods appeared to find more of the rhythm we associate with his game, striking aggressive shots to pin-high or within makeable birdie distances. Making such an adjustment midway through his round is no easy feat, but Tiger's no stranger to making the impossible seem common.
If he can start more consistently with irons tomorrow, he'll have more birdie opportunities, rather than difficult par-saving putts.
Distance Control: B
Tiger expects perfection. His standards are higher than anyone else's in the world of golf. But on a course like Augusta, he doesn't mind missing fairways or greens as long as he "misses in the right spot," which is a phrase we've become used to hearing from Tiger.
Quite a few times today, especially in his opening five holes, Woods found himself just off the green and faced with a slippery chip shot or extremely long putt. However, between his wide-ranging knowledge of the course and elite short game, Woods was unfazed and saved par regularly.
Woods posted just a single bogey on the day, but had he not played such crafty shots around the green, that number could have easily been in the four-to-six range.
That's a testament to Tiger, who, like other veterans Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk, understands the challenge of Augusta isn't being perfect, but rather about minimizing mistakes, much like a U.S. Open-type of course.
Woods' short-game performance was terrific Thursday and should be a source of confidence going forward.
Short Game: A
Managing the course in golf is purely about experience and executing strategy. Not many players in this field can boast as much experience as Tiger Woods.
He played it for the first time when he was 19 years old, and today the 37-year-old Tiger owns four victories at Augusta.
Woods' knowledge of the course was never more apparent than on the par-five 13th hole. He reached the green in two, but was on front and far left portion of what's one of the biggest greens on the course. The green has such severe slope, it looked like he was about to putt over a mountain range and would be lucky to escape with a three-putt.
But even a putt over 60 feet and with 30 feet of break didn't strike fear into the eyes—or hands—of Woods.
He played the break and speed of the putt to near perfection, leaving himself a simple three-foot birdie putt, which he converted for his third of the day.
By consistently putting himself in position to make birdie, or at least make an easy par, Woods has put himself in contention as the Masters swings forward.
Course Management: A