Tiger Woods amazed and entertained yet again at Augusta National. Hampered and hobbled by a right-leg injury suffered during a violent car crash in February 2021, the 15-time major champion shot a first-round 71. He finds himself squarely in the mix through 18 holes, a position he knows well at the Masters.

No one knew what to expect out of Woods this week given that he is still recovering from a life-threatening accident. His practice rounds and appearances at the Augusta National practice areas showed promise, but Thursday gave us the first look at the state of his game.

Watching Tiger on Thursday, it’s fairly clear that his injury affects his ability to press off his trail foot and turn through the ball. To compensate, he is using his upper body to make up for the lack of power generated from his legs. That said, he clearly understands his limitations and used his experience at the course to guide him around in the first round.

Shots that showed the current state of Tiger’s game

By Will Knights

Tee shot on Nos. 1 & 7, fairway wood on No. 8 – Tiger largely looked to a baby fade with his long clubs on Thursday. A few times, it was evident he relied too much on his upper body and got out ahead of the club. That led to a couple of flared drivers on Nos. 1 and 7 and a fairway wood that came up extremely short and right on the par-5 eighth. When he spun out with his upper body instead of pushing through with his legs, these high-right balls cost Tiger a lot of distance but didn’t completely take him out of play.

Tee shots on Nos. 9 & 14 – On these two tee shots, Tiger demonstrated his desire to keep the ball left. Both of these par 4s have a left-to-right tilt, meaning that a fade would likely end up right of the fairways. Tiger smothered both of these tee shots by trying to control the face, but he was able to escape disaster in both instances because of stellar short game play.

Approach shots on No. 5 & 13 – Two of Tiger’s better iron shots on Thursday came when the ground assisted his movement through the swing by orienting the ball above his feet. Simply by rotating through the ball, Tiger was able to control the face and didn’t have to worry about turning off his back leg. He stuffed it close at the fifth, usually the hardest hole on the course, and got home in two at the 13th with a shot that put him a reasonable 24 feet away for eagle.

Pitch shot on No. 7 – While his long game is still somewhat of a work-in-progress, Tiger’s short game is as impressive as usual. He successfully got up-and-down seven times on Thursday, at Nos. 1, 4, 7, 9, 10, 11, and 18. But it was the high pitch on No. 7 that showed how good his hands are around the green. He is generating an impressive amount of speed at the bottom of his swings on short-game shots, helping him control spin into tough hole locations.

Approach shots into No. 6 & 12 – Far and away his shot of the day, Tiger’s gentle cut on the par-3 sixth found the difficult top shelf and nearly sent the Augusta crowd into a frenzy. It was the kind of controlled iron swing we’re used to seeing from Tiger and nearly resulted in an ace. On No. 12, classic Tiger came out once again as he played the safe, game-managing type shot to the left side of the green and secured his par.

Mock season

By Brendan Porath

Tiger has a way of making the peripheral and mundane details into preposterous amusements that are celebrated and delighted over in great measure like, I don’t know, say, his bag sponsor. That brings us to the shirt, just an objective ridiculous look on any other golfer, but on Tiger it triggers a bunch of breathless gasps and “Tiger by a billion” tweets

I swear this is not some over-analysis of the wardrobe, or not trying to be at least. Showing up in a bright fuschia mock-neck shirt a size too small was a statement all its own. We were back. This is the real deal again, and not some sideshow.

It was purposeful, indicative of a confident Cat and a throwback to days of peak form and greater physical capability. Some guy showing up to bat it around as an over-the-hill chopper just looking to re-join the battle does not roll in like that. It legitimately showed to me that Tiger was approaching this Masters the same as ever, even if his body will never be the same. He’s diminished and will never be a full-time golfer again. But he knew exactly what he was doing throwing that thing on, and it mattered in a way, even if it was still an objectively ridiculous look.

A related point, and perhaps more serious than the attire aspect, is that the 2019 Masters win had to play such a significant role in the attempt at this comeback, and his confidence in it once he got out there. This was an entirely different injury, and he was lucky to be alive and have both legs. The 2019 win felt like the most improbable comeback victory in the history of golf, just a remote fantasy barely entertained for the six years that preceded it. Then he won, and if he could win it after a decrepit half-decade and 14 years in between green jackets, it could convince him he could recover from anything, for better or worse and even if it that may delude him one day. Tiger is the most knowledgeable golfer in the field at Augusta National, and that extends beyond the course to the execution and conviction of a major comeback.

Reps-less return

By Andy Johnson

The sight was astonishing, just the existence of Tiger walking up to the first tee for a competitive round at the Masters again felt like a gift. That he made it back was enough.

But his play was that of a pro who hadn’t played competitive golf in 18 months. There was sloppiness. He did not take advantage of the par 5s, a hallmark of his dominance at so many majors, including this one. When the tournament lights come on, it requires a different kind of sharpness. Tiger knows this, of course, better than anyone who has played golf on this planet. It’s why he always talks about “reps” so much.

He was not recently acquainted with those lights and environment, however, and it’s why there was some sloppiness and the need for a lot of scrambling and up-and-downs. He hit only nine greens in regulation. We have a long history of comebacks and this is often what the early rounds look like. There are glimpses but when things are really sharp, everything is humming and the round is stress free. This is not to say his game did not look good—it did!—but it was a stressful loop because he had not done it in so long.

Display in delicacy

By Garrett Morrison

Last night on Golf Channel, Eamon Lynch made the obvious but strong point that the main thing Tiger Woods was able to practice while recovering from his traumatic leg injuries was chipping and putting. So maybe it’s not surprising that his first round at the 2022 Masters was defined, in part, by a series of crisp up-and-downs.

Aside from some loose play around the eighth and 14th greens, Woods showed little rust in executing the most delicate shots at Augusta National. Particularly delightful were his high, soft pitch from below the seventh green, his well-judged bump and run on the 11th hole, and the hop-hop-zip of his third shot into No. 18. He also appeared calm and confident with his trusty old Scotty, holing 10-footers for par on Nos. 1, 9, and 18, and giving the patrons something to bellow about by ramming in a 30-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole.

Tiger wasn’t sharp off the tee today, but he didn’t throw away many shots around Augusta National’s famously treacherous greens, and that’s quite an achievement for a guy who hasn’t played an official competitive round since November 2020.

Weekend plans?

By Meg Adkins

Stunning. Remarkable. Unfathomable. Incredible. Whatever adjective popped into your head while watching Tiger’s first round today, it doesn’t do justice to what we just saw.  It was Thursday, and he was wearing hot pink, but today had all the sounds and feelings of a red-clad Tiger on Sunday. A comeback that no one saw coming was all of the sudden here and happening right before our eyes.

Tampered expectations quickly went out the window with a perfectly precise 6-iron and tap in birdie on 6.  A round marred only by two untimely bogeys means a weekend date with Augusta is well within reason, and I plan on enjoying every minute of it.

More Masters coverage from The Fried Egg team:

Is Augusta National Turning Over a New Leaf?

Geoff Ogilvy’s notes on all 18 at Augusta National

Stories worth your time and tracking at the 2022 Masters

The Art Behind Augusta’s Roars: Focal points in Alister MacKenzie’s routings

Tiger’s Masters flirtation is something more than ceremonial

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