Tiger Woods Shoots Opening-Round 71 at 2022 Masters in Return from Leg InjuryApril 7, 2022
Tiger Woods didn't hesitate when asked Tuesday if he believes he can win the Masters, simply telling reporters, "I do."
He will have some work to do thanks to a quick start from Cameron Smith, but who can really doubt Woods after he battled his way to a one-under 71 as the main attraction of Thursday's opening round?
Woods is always one of the biggest storylines at the Masters, even under normal circumstances.
The 15-time major champion and 82-time PGA Tour title winner has five green jackets and 14 top-10 finishes at Augusta National Golf Club on his illustrious resume. Only Jack Nicklaus (six) has more Masters titles, making Tiger appointment viewing whenever he tees up at the season's first major.
Yet this year presented anything but normal circumstances.
This tournament is Woods' first official PGA Tour event since November 2020 because of serious leg injuries he suffered in a February 2021 car crash. He required surgery and said amputation was considered at one point.
Even walking 72 holes, let alone playing at a championship level, figured to be a challenge for the all-time great.
"You know, 72 holes is a long road, and it's going to be a tough challenge and a challenge that I'm up for," Woods told reporters Tuesday.
He looked more than up for it right out of the gates.
Marty Smith @MartySmithESPN
Followed Tiger tee to green on 1.<br><br>I don't know anyone else in sports who produces electric energy in every spectator the way he does -- <br>Ronaldo maybe? LeBron in a Game 7, maybe? Lewis? -- and the draw is only intensified by the context of his amazing return to <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/TheMasters?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#TheMasters</a>
Woods drained a medium-length putt to save par on the first hole after missing the fairway and the green in his first two shots, and he seemed to settle in after that. He ripped off five straight pars to start his round and just missed a birdie when his putt on the fifth rimmed out.
Rather than linger on the near-miss, he unleashed a dart of a tee shot on the par-three sixth to set up his first official birdie in his return to golf.
It became a battle from there, as he overcame poor tee shots on the seventh and ninth holes to save par but struggled with his approach to the green on the par-five eighth and gave back a stroke with a bogey.
The cliche that one can't win a tournament on the first day but can lose it exists for a reason, and Woods continued to keep himself well within striking distance with a steady dose of pars on Nos. 10, 11 and 12 that showed off his scrambling ability.
That steady streak of play put him in position to move back into the red numbers on the par-five 13th, and he delivered with a birdie after reaching the green in two.
While he gave a stroke back with a bogey on the 14th following a poor drive, it was clear he was dialed in with excellent approach shots from out of the tree area on back-to-back holes. And then the moment the galleries were waiting for arrived on No. 16 when he drilled a long birdie putt and punctuated it with a fist pump.
The Augusta roar was back, and it surely won't go anywhere in the later rounds after he finished his inspiring showing with two more pars. The last one fittingly came on a scramble and medium-length putt, mirroring much of the round's theme.