Maybe it was the mock turtleneck shirt, a blast from his illustrious past, but Tiger Woods’ swagger was back as he enjoyed an early share of the lead on the opening day of the 83rd Masters at Augusta.
The 43-year-old, who won the last of his four Masters Green Jackets in 2005, hit the front with a solid display before afternoon fireworks from a phalanx of later starters dropped him back.
Fellow American Brooks Koepka led the charge, picking up where he left off after edging Woods to the US PGA title last year for his second straight major and third in 14 months.
The 28-year-old Koepka shot 66 to Woods’ 70 to soar to six under where he was joined by countryman Bryson DeChambeau, who birdied six of the last seven holes as he bids for a maiden major title.
Three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson, 48, was another fast-finisher with five birdies in his last seven holes to end five under, one clear of England’s Ryder Cup hero Ian Poulter and world No.2 Dustin Johnson.
Despite the traffic roaring past him in the fast lane, Woods continued the impressive form he showed in the last two majors of 2018 after also briefly leading the Open at Carnoustie in July.
However, the former world No.1 will have to emulate his achievements in 2005 if he is to win a 15th major title and first in 11 years — that was the last time a Masters champion came from outside the top 10 after the first round to win the Green Jacket. Woods is tied 11th.
“Overall, it was a good solid day, I grinded my way around the golf course,” said Woods, whose remarkable resurgence from spine fusion surgery in 2017 culminated in his 80th PGA Tour title and first for five years in the season-ending Tour Championship last year.
Koepka, who has won three of his last six majors, was the only player in the 87-man field not to card a bogey, but from a modest one under after nine he exploded with five bogeys in six holes at the start of the second nine.
The 25-year-old DeChambeau, who possesses a distinctive swing to accommodate clubs that are all the same length, caught Koepka with a finish that included a near hole-in-one on the 16th, a chip-in on the 17th and an approach that hit the flagstick but stayed out on 18.
“It came out of the rough beautifully, I thought I made it, everyone was going crazy,” the five-time PGA Tour winner told Sky Sports.
Woods told reporters before the tournament he had a “pretty good little library” in his head of how to play Augusta and he used it to full effect in only his third Masters in the last six years because of a succession of back injuries.
“I tried to take care of the par fives when I could and just tried to stay mistake free. It’s hard to do, but a good positive start,” said Woods, who admitted some of the pin positions surprised him.
“I executed my plan pretty much all the way around.”
The American had none of his usual issues with the opening tee shot at Augusta and dipped under par for the first time with a birdie at the long second. The newly extended fifth gave him some problems and he made a bogey via the fairway bunker, but he picked up another shot at the ninth, although he missed a number of other short putts.
Woods went through the infamous stretch known as Amen Corner — holes 11 and 12 — in level par and found the green of the long 13th in two before two putts gave him another birdie.
After a loose drive into the left trees on 14 he found the green and drained a 25-footer for back-to-back birdies to join a three-way tie for the lead at three under. Woods would have hoped to make more hay at the long 15th but his approach flew long and he had to battle just to save par.
A poor drive to the right on 17 led to a dropped shot and he could only make par on 18 after driving into the fairway bunker.
Pre-tournament favorite Rory McIlroy, who needs the Masters to clinch the career grand slam of all four major titles, endured a tough day and battled to a one-over 73.
The 29-year-old got off to a poor start but climbed to one under after holing a long putt for a second straight birdie on the 16th before handing both shots back coming home.
Former champion Jordan Spieth and world No.1 Justin Rose had days to forget, both finishing three over.