Woods shoots under par on jubilant Masters return

Venue: Augusta National Golf Club, Georgia Date: 7-10 April
Coverage: Listen to commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live; follow live text on the BBC Sport website and app; watch highlights on BBC Two and online.

Tiger Woods shot a one-under par 71 on his Masters comeback as the five-time champion made a stunning return to competitive golf at a jubilant Augusta.

Woods, 46, suffered life-threatening injuries in a car crash 14 months ago, then feared his leg might be amputated.

The American 15-time major champion only confirmed on Tuesday he planned to play the Masters and looked sharp in his opening round on Thursday.

Australia’s Cameron Smith was the early clubhouse leader after a four-under 68.

England’s Danny Willett, who earned a shock win at the Masters in 2016, and world number one Scottie Scheffler are one shot behind Smith after 69s.

Almost half the 90-man field were still out on the course at 22:00 BST, with Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy again bidding for a career Grand Slam.

“There is a long way to go, it is a marathon but it is nice to get off to a positive start,” Woods said after playing his first competitive round in 508 days.

Woods impresses in a round which few thought they would see again

When Woods crashed while speeding in Los Angeles in February 2021, the shocking images of his overturned car at the side of the road left his millions of admirers around the world fearing his golf career was over.

That he has been able to return to health is remarkable, let alone be able to resume a glittering career in which his total of 15 men’s majors is second only to Jack Nicklaus.

In February, Woods made it clear that he thought the hilly terrain at Augusta National would come too soon in his recovery.

Yet as Masters week approached, speculation increased he was planning to play if he came through his practice rounds unscathed.

“I am proud of my whole team, we worked so hard,” said Woods.

“People have no idea how hard we worked each and every day. We never took a day off.”

Vast numbers watched him practise at the iconic Georgia course on Monday, creating a celebratory atmosphere as the preeminent star of the sport continued his bid to make an astonishing comeback.

The moment Woods walked out on to the first tee on Thursday was even more special.

Huge cheers greeted his name being read out as thousands gathered to watch his opening shot. Despite his drive turning out to be wayward, it did not dampen the mood as Woods was cheered down the first fairway.

Practice partners Justin Thomas and Fred Couples had talked up the level of Woods’ game, with the former world number one saying it was the physicality of getting around 72 holes which would be his biggest challenge.

Technically, he looked very good. Starting with five pars, he put his tee-shot on the par-three sixth to within a few feet and knocked in the birdie among more rapturous scenes.

A poor chip and putt from the side of the eighth green led to a bogey, before he moved back under par with a birdie on the par-five 13th after reaching the green in two.

More sloppiness around the 14th green led to another bogey, but a brilliant two on the par-three 16th ensured he would finish under par in his first competitive round since the 2020 Masters, which was held in November.

“I said to the guys, ‘get me to this point and the adrenaline will kick in,” he told Sky Sports after his round.

“I know how to play golf and how to play this golf course.”

Back injury forces England’s Casey out of the tournament

England’s Paul Casey pulled out of the tournament because of a back injury, shortly before he was due to tee off on Thursday.

Casey, 44, finished third in last month’s Players Championship and has a good record at Augusta with three top-six finishes and just one missed cut in the past seven years.

But he suffered back spasms during the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play last month and completed just two holes in his opening contest with Corey Conners.

“The back issues are persistent and thus preventing me from being able to compete,” he said in an Instagram post.

“I shall now focus on my treatment and recovery so I can return to competitive form as soon as possible.”

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