Woods three shots behind early Masters leader Niemann

The Masters
Tiger Woods
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Steve Keating

Tiger Woods made an inspiring start in his return to competition at the Masters on Thursday as he reached the turn three shots behind early leader Joaquin Niemann in front of a throng of patrons thrilled to see the five-times champion back.

In his first competitive round of golf in 508 days, Woods was even par through nine holes after mixing one birdie with a bogey at Augusta National playing alongside Niemann who, bolstered by an eagle at the ninth, held a one-shot lead.

Woods, wearing a pink shirt and black pants on his return to the Masters following a car crash in February 2021, was greeted at each tee by a raucous reception from spectators who arrived in the early hours to get a front-row seat.

After five consecutive pars, Woods nearly aced the par-three sixth hole where his tee shot stopped two feet from the cup to set up a tap-in birdie.

Woods made his first costly error at the par-five eighth where he was left staring at the ground after his third shot came up short of the green. He chipped to nine feet from where he needed two putts for bogey.

Gary Player tees off on the 1st during the ceremonial start on the first day of play as Tom Watson of the U.S. and Jack Nicklaus of the U.S. look on.REUTERS/Mike Blake

At the ninth, Woods sent his tee shot left into the trees and looked headed for another bogey when his approach caught the false front of the green but he managed to get up and down from 17 yards.

Niemann’s day began with a bogey but the Chilean birdied the third and fourth holes before grabbing the outright lead at the par-four ninth where he used the slope of the green to perfection for eagle.

Defending champion Hideki Matsuyama, who last year became the first Japanese man to win a major championship, was playing one group behind Woods and was even par through eight holes.

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Australian world number six Cameron Smith, former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and twice runner-up Lee Westwood were one shot off the lead while debutant Harry Higgs was among a pack of nine players at one under.

The start to the year’s first major was delayed 30 minutes due to early-morning thunderstorms but the added wait could not dampen the excitement around Augusta National, which had its usual full house after two years of COVID-19 restrictions.

Festivities began at 8:15 a.m. ET when honorary starters Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson, who have a combined 35 major titles between them, got the year’s first major underway with their ceremonial tee shots.



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