Skip to main content

AUGUSTA, Ga. — The frustration on a few occasions could be picked up on microphones, the blistering four-letter words that he’s sometimes been known to utter in disgust on a golf course audible for all to hear. That provided the best clue that Tiger Woods was back.

But after playing the first round of the Masters on Thursday following a lengthy layoff due to injuries suffered in a Feb. 23, 2021, car crash, Woods acknowledged the enormity of his accomplishment, the 1-under-par 71 in which numbers on a scorecard did not begin to tell the story.

There is no overstating the impressiveness of this day. Not in terms of technical issues, such as ball-striking or length of tee shots or the quality of his short game. No, this was more about finishing a round on one of the game’s most exacting courses, and standing before the assembled media to talk about it.

Woods acknowledged that what transpired Thursday was, itself, a victory.

“If you would have seen how my leg looked to where it’s at now ... the pictures, some of the guys know,’’ he said of his severely injured right leg, ankle and foot. “They’ve seen the pictures, and they’ve come over to the house and they’ve seen it. To see where I’ve been ... to get from there to here, it was no easy task.’’

Woods suffered multiple injuries to his right leg in that crash. While the exact details have not been disclosed, Woods acknowledged he had multiple surgeries and was basically in a bed for months after returning home from a hospital near Los Angeles, where the crash occurred.

As recently as two weeks ago, there was no credible evidence that suggested Woods would be back anytime soon, certainly not at the Masters, where the rolling hills and severe undulation would put extra strain on the leg.

While Woods seems to move around fine, it is clear that he favors his right foot and leg. He navigates hills, both up and down, carefully. At times it simply looks as if he is dealing with an irritating blister, but all who know his story realize it is more.

“I’ve said this before, we haven’t taken a day off since I got out of bed after those three months,’’ said Woods, who thanked his team, which includes two specialists who were in the gallery on Thursday. “Granted, some days are easier than others. Some days we push it pretty hard, and other days we don’t. But always doing something.

“So it’s a commitment to getting back and commitment to getting back to a level that I feel I can still do it. I did something positive today.’’

Woods hit eight of 14 fairways and just nine of 18 greens. But he made nice par saves on the first and ninth holes as well as an impressive up-and-down for poor after a poor drive at the 18th.

His first birdie since his last official round – the 18th hole of the 2020 Masters – came at the par-3 sixth, where he stuffed his approach to a couple of feet.

His biggest regret of the day was the way he played the par-5 eighth, where he was 50 yards from the green in two shots but walked off with a bogey 6.

“Lack of concentration on the first one,’’ he said. “Second one, lack of commitment. Then a blocked putt, So just three bad shots in a row.’’

But Woods was hardly beating himself up about it.

“As far as the good stuff, to finish in the red today after as long a layoff as I’ve had and not being in competitive golf – I don’t really consider a scramble in the PNC, it is competitive, but it's not like this. This is totally different.

“But to play this golf course and to do what I did today — to hit the shots in the right spots — I know where to hit it to a lot of these pins, and I miss in the correct spots and give myself good angles. I did that all day, and I was able to make a few putts and end up in the red like I am now.’’

Woods was referring to the PNC Championship, where in December he and his son, Charlie, finished second to John Daly and his son, John Jr., in an exhibition in Orlando. The 36-hole tournament is for major champions and a family member, and players are allowed to use carts.

As impressive as Woods’ game looked just more than nine months removed from the crash, using a cart tempered any kind of excitement. Woods looked to be laboring at times, even on the short walks he had. And when he spoke to the media in February at the Genesis Invitational, where he is the host of the PGA Tour event, Woods gave little indication that he was ready for high-level golf.

And yet, here he was, shooting a better score than the likes of defending champion Hideki Matsuyama, Shane Lowry, Adam Scott, Kevin Kisner and others. When he finished, he was just three shots back of the leader at the time, Cameron Smith.

Now comes the hard part. Woods must endure an extensive process of rest and rehabilitation in order to get ready for the next day. Without going into detail, Woods suggested that he spends time in an ice bath, and has a team of trainers who help with swelling.

Then there is the ongoing process of strengthening, which Woods said occurs whether he plays golf or not.

And the playing golf part? Well, it’s going to mean some issues.

“No it did not get easier, let’s put it that way,’’ he said. "I can swing a golf club. The walking's not easy, and it's difficult. As I said with all the hard work, my leg, it's going to be difficult for the rest of my life. That's just the way it is, but I'm able to do it.

“That's something I'm very lucky to have this opportunity to be able to play, and not only that, to play in the Masters and to have this type of reception.

“I mean, the place was electric. I hadn't played like this since '19 when I won, because in '20 we had COVID and we had no one here, and I didn't play last year. So to have the patrons fully out and to have that type of energy out there was awesome to feel.’’

The scene on the first tee was impressive, fans lining the fairway several deep, surrounding all the greens and bellowing Woods’ name at every opportunity.

In some ways, not much had changed. And Woods tried to show it was business as usual throughout the round.

But even he knew that was impossible.

More Masters Coverage From Morning Read:

- Tiger Woods Dazzles in Front of 'Electric' Crowd
- On Thursday There Was Tiger, and Everyone Else
- Woods's First Round Was Both Vintage and New-Age

- Cam Smith, Man of the People, Is a Man on Fire
- Sungjae Im Leads After Thursday Unlike Any Other
- Varner Soaks In First Round at Augusta National
- Round 2 Tee Times: Tiger Woods to Tee Off at 1:41 ET