(CNN)A revitalized Tiger Woods drew on his vast experience at Augusta National to open his defense of the US Masters crown with a solid 4-under-par 68.
Many had written off Woods after a poor 2020, with a previous best finish of 37th. But on Thursday he silenced the doubters as he cleverly plotted his way around a course where he has been crowned champion five times before, including his incredible comeback triumph last year.With the playing time shorter in the autumn, the field started from both the 1st and 10th tees. Woods, starting from the 10th, was out in 33, three under and picked up another birdie in his last nine holes.Tiger Woods still gets 'chills' as he recalls 2019 Masters victoryFurther birdies eluded the 15-time major champion, despite some fine approach play. But he was firmly in contention after his first bogey-free round at a major in his last 106 rounds dating back to the 2009 PGA Championship.”I understand how to play this golf course,” Woods told Sky Sports. “This is a golf course that allows experience.”Read More”I did everything well today,” Woods said. “The greens were soft. You have to seize your opportunities out there and take advantage.”Woods is three adrift of early pacesetter Paul Casey of England, who also kept a bogey off his card on his way to a 7-under 65, with five birdies and an eagle.Casey, who finished tied second at the PGA Championship at Harding Park, has been practicing hard in the build up to the Masters.Reason to be cheerful. Paul Casey celebrates his eagle on the second at Augusta during his superb opening round.”I have worked really hard the last few weeks,” he told Sky Sports. “I have blisters on my hands. A lot of work in a small amount of time has paid off and translated on to the golf course today.”Among the early starters, American duo Xander Schauffele and Webb Simpson were next best, with 5-under, amid a strong group at 4-under that includes Woods, 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed, Louis Oosthuizen, Hideki Matsuyama and Lee Westwood.Scoring was impressive on a Augusta course softened by earlier torrential rain, which caused a near three-hour delay to play. Later starters, including world number one Dustin Johnson and Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy were unable to complete their first rounds.Bryson DeChambeau hoping lack of patrons at Masters can give him 'little bit of an advantage'Bryson DeChambeau, looking to win back-to-back majors after his US Open triumph, had been the focus of attention in the build up to the final major of the season. Experts thought his immense power would overcome the famous course.But after escaping with a par on the 11th after finding the trees off the tee, he came unstuck at the par-5 13th, where he needed five shots to reach the green and ran up a double bogey.He recovered lost ground by making successive birdies on the 15th and 16th. And he made a birdie on the par-5 second hole, his 10th tee of the day. Bryson DeChambeau played his second shot from the trees on the 11th hole at Augusta.A dropped shot on the seventh halted his progress before he notched successive birdies to finish, a monster drive on the ninth and fine approach helping him to a 2-under 70.”I have been proud of myself as I have looked at myself as an underdog to the total field,” he said. “There are plenty of major winners and great golfers out there, and I haven’t won here. So I have got to go and get it done.”DeChambeau’s playing partner, Jon Rahm of Spain, also recovered from a poor start to card a creditable 3-under 69 in search of his first major after briefly topping the world rankings earlier in 2020.READ: Jon Rahm skips ball across pond in amazing hole-in-one at the MastersRahm, who made two holes-in-one in practice rounds, including an incredible skimming effort on the 16th, is quietly confident after a first round recovery. Photos: The Masters: A-Z in photosThe Masters, Augusta – The opening major of the golf season is the Masters from Augusta, Georgia every April, although it is being held in November in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s a spring rite, steeped in tradition and layered in rich sporting history and drama. It’s an event that attracts even non-golfers because of the sublime beauty of the course. Click through the gallery for an A-Z of the Masters.Hide Caption 1 of 27 Photos: The Masters: A-Z in photosA is for Augusta National – The revered course has hosted the year’s opening major — and the only one of the big four events to be played at the same course every year — since 1934. A is also for the azaleas which traditionally blossom during Masters week and for Amen Corner, the infamous stretch of holes incorporating the 11th, the treacherous short 12th and the tee shot on the par-five 13th. Hide Caption 2 of 27 Photos: The Masters: A-Z in photosB is for Beauty – The Georgian greensward is an oasis among the urban landscape of Augusta, Georgia’s second city on the banks of the Savannah River. The bars, burger joints and shopping malls of neighboring Washington Road are in stark contrast to the golfing dreamscape over the fence. B is also for Seve Ballesteros, the Spaniard who opened the European floodgates with wins in 1980 and 1983. Hide Caption 3 of 27 Photos: The Masters: A-Z in photosC is for Caddies – Augusta’s caddies are instantly recognizable by their white jump suits. Before 1983, players had to use a club caddie, all of whom were local black men. Since then players have used their usual tour caddies, but they must still don the white suit and green cap. Hide Caption 4 of 27 Photos: The Masters: A-Z in photosD is for Dos and Don'ts – The hallowed property is governed by its own strict rules such as no running or cell phones, but on the flip side traditions exist such as the practice of placing your green Masters chair at your preferred spot and being able to return to your vacant seat hours later.Hide Caption 5 of 27 Photos: The Masters: A-Z in photosE is for Eisenhower – Former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a member of Augusta National and several landmarks of his era remain, including Ike’s Pond, the fishing lake he championed that is the focal point of the Par-3 Contest. Eisenhower’s white cabin also sits near the clubhouse.Hide Caption 6 of 27 Photos: The Masters: A-Z in photosF is for Fans (make that Patrons) – Visitors to Augusta National are known as patrons — not fans or spectators or the crowd. Tickets are like gold dust, but a limited number of practice round tickets and tournament days are available through a yearly ballot. The waiting list for weekly tournament badges closed years ago.Hide Caption 7 of 27 Photos: The Masters: A-Z in photosG is for Grand Slam – Rory McIlroy just needs the Masters to complete the Grand Slam of all four of golf’s major titles. The Northern Irishman blew a four-shot lead at Augusta in 2011, but having won four majors in the meantime returns for his fifth shot at the Grand Slam this week. Only five others have achieved the feat — Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. G is also for greens — the slick, sloping putting surfaces are infamous. Hide Caption 8 of 27 Photos: The Masters: A-Z in photosH is for History – Augusta National was created by Scottish golf course architect Dr. Alister Mackenzie and co-founder Bobby Jones and opened in 1933 on land that was once the site of Fruitlands Nursery. During World War II the land was briefly given over to turkey and cattle farming. Hide Caption 9 of 27 Photos: The Masters: A-Z in photosI is for Internationals – South African Gary Player — pictured here in 2014 with Jack Nicklaus (left) and the late Arnold Palmer — was the first international champion in 1961. Since then the Masters has been won 21 times by overseas players. The US counts for 60 wins from 37 different players.Hide Caption 10 of 27 Photos: The Masters: A-Z in photosJ is for Jacket, as in green – The tropical-weight emerald blazer is worn by only Augusta National members and Masters champions. It was first introduced for members in 1937 and ordered from Brooks Uniform Company in New York. Sam Snead was the first winner to receive a jacket and honorary membership in 1949. The reigning Masters champion can take it home for a year, then it must be kept at the club.Hide Caption 11 of 27 Photos: The Masters: A-Z in photosK is for Key holes – The saying goes the Masters doesn’t begin until the back nine on Sunday. It starts with one of the hardest holes on the course in the 10th and then enters Amen Corner with the equally tough 11th and then the booby trap of the short 12th. But the long 15th (pictured) is key — big moves can be made with eagles here. Anything less than a birdie and you will likely go backwards. Hide Caption 12 of 27 Photos: The Masters: A-Z in photosL is for Lane, as in Magnolia Lane – The exclusive driveway to Augusta’s historic clubhouse is framed by dozens of magnolia trees. Only members and Masters competitors are allowed to access this revered entrance which gives on to the Founder’s Circle and then the whitewashed concrete clubhouse, built in 1854. Hide Caption 13 of 27 Photos: The Masters: A-Z in photosM is for Mickelson – Popular left-hander Phil Mickelson is one of 17 players to have won multiple Masters titles. The three-time champion won the first of his five major titles at Augusta in 2004 after three straight third places. Even at 50, Mickelson remains a Masters threat. Hide Caption 14 of 27 Photos: The Masters: A-Z in photosN is for Nicklaus, as in Jack – The most successful player at the Masters is Jack Nicklaus, whose six Green Jackets remains the record. The 80-year-old is now an honorary starter along with Gary Player, following the death of four-time champion Arnold Palmer in 2016. Hide Caption 15 of 27 Photos: The Masters: A-Z in photosO is for Oak tree – The famous old oak tree on the course side of the clubhouse is an iconic landmark and the traditional meeting place for the game’s movers and shakers and media types with the correct credential. A familiar refrain of Masters week is: “Meet you under the tree.”Hide Caption 16 of 27 Photos: The Masters: A-Z in photosP is for Par 3s, notably the 12th – Perhaps the most famous short hole in golf, the par-3 12th sits at the heart of Amen Corner. Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, it is just 155 yards long, but Rae’s Creek looms large in front and a devilish wind always swirling around the trees makes club selection tricky.Hide Caption 17 of 27 Photos: The Masters: A-Z in photosQ is for Quonset Hut – Modern media are housed in a recently built state-of-the-art facility at the far end of the practice range, but in days gone by the stories from Augusta were crafted in a corrugated metal Quonset Hut. Hide Caption 18 of 27 Photos: The Masters: A-Z in photosR is for Roars – When the excitement rises on a Sunday afternoon and the patrons reach fever pitch, the roars reverberate around the towering pines which act like a giant organ reflecting the noise all over the course. A Phil Mickelson roar stands out, but a roar for Tiger Woods is like no other. Hide Caption 19 of 27 Photos: The Masters: A-Z in photosS is for Spieth – Jordan Spieth was on a fast track to being crowned the new king of Augusta following his wire-to-wire victory in 2015 and dominance for three rounds in 2016. He was still clear with nine holes to play before famously self destructing with two balls in the water on 12. The American has struggled of late and is down to 33rd in the world, but in five Masters appearances he has won, finished second twice, come third and 11th.Hide Caption 20 of 27 Photos: The Masters: A-Z in photosT is for Tradition – The Masters is forward looking but rooted in tradition, such as the pre-tournament Par-3 Contest, in which friends and family members caddie for the players and hit the occasional shot. Jack Nicklaus’ grandson Gary made a hole in one last year. Other traditions include the Champions Dinner, in which the holder chooses the menu and hosts the evening on the Tuesday of Masters weekHide Caption 21 of 27 Photos: The Masters: A-Z in photosU is for Under par – When Jordan Spieth won in 2015 he equaled Tiger Woods’ 1997 record for the lowest winning score at 18 under par. Hide Caption 22 of 27 Photos: The Masters: A-Z in photosV is for Views – Augusta’s vistas are consistently spell-binding with the pines framing the holes and the lush grass, ice white of the bunkers and explosions of color from the flowers and patrons adding to the allure. Hide Caption 23 of 27 Photos: The Masters: A-Z in photosW is for Woods – Who else? Tiger Woods changed golf when he won his first major by a record 12 shots in 1997. He went on to win three further Green Jackets, the last of which came in 2005 after a famous chip-in on the 16th. The 43-year-old is fit again after multiple back surgeries, and among the widely tipped contenders. Hide Caption 24 of 27 Photos: The Masters: A-Z in photosX is for X-factor – Winning the Masters requires a game in mint condition and a bit of something special. Think Tiger Woods’ chip-in on the 16th in 2005, or Phil Mickelson’s shot threaded through trees on the 13th in 2010. Or what about Bubba Watson’s banana ball from the woods on the 10th to clinch a play off in 2012 (pictured)? Hide Caption 25 of 27 Photos: The Masters: A-Z in photosY is for Youngest winner – Tiger Woods’ 1997 win for the first of 14 majors so far made him the youngest Masters champion at the age of 21.Hide Caption 26 of 27 Photos: The Masters: A-Z in photosZ is for Zenith – For many players, winning the Masters represents the zenith of their career. Phil Mickelson’s jump for joy in 2004 at his 11th attempt kick started an era which yielded further victories in 2006 and 2010. Hide Caption 27 of 27“My start was not much to look forward to, but luckily I pulled it back — that eagle at two and to finish with a strong 69,” he said.The 84th Masters is being played in late autumn after being pushed back from its usual April slot by the coronavirus pandemic.It’s the final major of the season, with Collin Morikawa winning the PGA Championship before DeChambeau took the US Open by six shots.READ: How Nicklaus tops Tiger Woods’ redemption taleWoods, who soon turns 45, has been troubled by back problems in a truncated season and was not a factor in either. But by returning to Augusta, he is clearly looking to finish the year with a flourish, still chasing the all-time majors record of Jack Nicklaus, who famously won the Masters at age 46.
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