AUGUSTA // For the first time in 144 days, Tiger Woods hit a golf ball in tournament competition yesterday. It just happened to be on the game's grandest and most visible stage. The world's No 1-ranked player teed off on the first hole at Augusta National Golf Club in the 74th Masters Tournament at 1.42pm local time, surrounded by a huge throng of fans.
It was a good drive. His ball found the fairway some 300 yards away, just left of one of the huge sand bunkers on the 445-yard, par-4 hole. Woods had not played competitive golf since news of his marital transgressions broke with a car crash in his Orlando neighbourhood on November 27. He last played - and won - in the Australian Masters 12 days earlier. Under cloudy skies and in windy but warm conditions, Woods received a largely positive reception from the tremendous gallery that gathered to see him yesterday.
He received a loud ovation upon exiting the clubhouse, another one when he entered the teeing area, and an enormous roar when he was introduced by the official starter. He tipped his cap and smiled, which initiated another ovation. Even the wait staff from inside the stately clubhouse came out to verandas and porches to watch the historic shot. But a reminder of the scandal that tarnished his once-impeccable image was not far away. A small plane towed a banner overhead carrying a message referring to his indiscretions. After his opening drive, Woods got relief from a sprinkler head in the fairway and hit an approach shot on the green to about 18 feet. He two-putted for par.
At the time Woods teed off, Tom Watson held the early lead at five-under-par through 18 holes. Lee Westwood and YE Yang were at four under but had not finished their rounds. A large group at three under included Ernie Els. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org