AUGUSTA, Ga. – Tiger Woods hasn’t won or contended in over a year, his brittle back is a day-to-day proposition, and he’ll turn 45 next month. He has looked old or human, take your pick.
But in a PGA TOUR season that has already featured three 40-something winners (Stewart Cink, Sergio Garcia, Brian Gay), Thursday reminded us nothing rolls back the odometer like the Masters and Augusta National. After rain pushed back tee times three hours, five-time champion Woods, in a title defense that has been 19 months in the making, shot a no-drama, 4-under 68.
“Yeah, I did everything well,” Woods said after his first-ever bogey-free opening round here. “I drove it well, hit my irons well, putted well. The only real bad shot I hit today was I think 8. I had a perfect number with a 60-degree sand wedge and I hit it on the wrong shelf.”
He made par on the hole. It was Woods’ first bogey-free effort in his last 106 rounds in the majors, and first at Augusta National since 2008. He hit 10 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens.
“The only thing I could say is I wish I could have made a couple more putts,” Woods said after taking 30 strokes on the greens. “I missed everything on the high side. Putts just aren’t moving.”
The added Bermuda grass in November, plus the rain, accounted for that.
England’s Paul Casey, 43, shot a 7-under 65 to lead the tournament. He was about to start his round when play was called on account of rain, and after a nearly three-hour delay, he played all 18 holes in postcard-perfect conditions.
Fellow Brit Lee Westwood, 47, who hadn’t played here since 2017 and got in via his T4 at The Open Championship last year, made an adventurous par on 18 to sign for a 4-under 68. He’s of an age, he has said, when nobody expects much from him. It’s freeing.
Oh, and Augusta’s own Larry Mize, 62, was briefly on the leaderboard. He made six birdies and shot 70.
“Experience counts a lot around here,” Westwood, who has six top-10s in 18 starts here, said earlier this week. “There is definitely a knack for playing this golf course, and it’s a knack that you learn only really by playing the tournament here.”
The high-water mark for oldies at Augusta may forever be Jack Nicklaus winning at age 46 in 1986, but he also contended deep into the back nine in 1998, at 58. It was like an old film reel suddenly colorized and in real time. Woods mentioned that day earlier this week; if he uses Nicklaus as any kind of guide it would give him another 15 years or so to potentially win a sixth or even seventh Masters.
“My body is feeling better than I did last year,” he said.
He proved it in the first round, when he started on the back nine and showed total command early. He’d never started the tournament on the 10th hole, nor had he ever heard a drone flying overhead, as he did absent the buzz from the patrons Thursday.
“I got off to a fast start today, which is good, but I think everyone is,” said Woods, who with one more victory would set the all-time wins record on TOUR with 83. “Everyone is going low out there today. With these conditions, you have to. You have to be aggressive.
“There’s no reason why you can’t fire at a lot of the flags.”
And no reason why those who have contended in the past can’t keep right on going. It’s always age before beauty at Augusta National.