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Woods in pursuit of old guard

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Rob Hodgetts | 03:07 UK time, Friday, 9 April 2010

The Tiger Woods saga is a bit like wrestling an octopus. Just when you think it's under control it comes at you from another angle.

Woods seemed to have made steps to enter a new phase in his life after Monday's positive news conference. But then came the stern and quite surprising lecture from Augusta chairman Billy Payne on the eve of the Masters. It didn't end there, though.

The opening day dawned with news that Woods had filmed a controversial new advert for his sponsors using his late father's voice, essentially trading on his indiscretions.

And now this.

After five months away from golf, Woods comes back and shoots 68 for his best first-round score at the Masters. Despite everything that has happened to him in recent times, he is only two shots off the lead, held by Fred Couples.

Fred Couples and Tiger WoodsCouples and Woods, who played a practice round together, dominated the headlines on day one. Picture: Getty

But what did we really expect? Not for nothing has Woods won 14 major titles. And he has had success after breaks before - remember that US Open that he won on one leg in 2008?

Some doubted whether Woods's lack of competitive golf would reduce his sharpness. Sir Nick Faldo even questioned whether he would make the cut. He still could miss out.

But Woods is one of the most ferocious competitors of all time and does not do half-hearted. Even if his game is off, he will out-try anyone in the field. There were blemishes, of course, although everyone has them, but Woods is only likely to get better as he eases back into the old routine.

Part of the new routine, certainly during the practice days, involved engaging more with fans, though Woods stressed he might not keep it up during the tournament. But he did make more eye contact as he walked to the first tee, a time when he normally hides behind an unflinching game face.

Some boos and pantomime hisses rang out as he inched through the huge crowds, but cheers quickly drowned them out. Woods even broke into a smile and doffed his cap as he strode down the fairway. "The people were just incredible, all day," he said.

Woods vowed on Monday to show the game more respect and be a calmer presence on the course. The reaction to his eagle on the 15th certainly appeared to be consciously low key. And there were definitely more smiles than in recent years.

Some of the small traits that irked many before his lay-off were still in evidence - the spitting (he's only one of a sizeable number who do) and signs of a mini-tantrum here and there. But even Tiger, a golfing machine, can't change his stripes overnight.

As for that advert, Woods is unrepentant. "I think it's very apropos," he said. "It's amazing how my dad can speak to me in different ways, even when he's long gone. I think any son who had lost a father who meant so much in life would understand."

So after a tumultuous build-up, Woods's golf career is back on track. And how normal it all felt after just a few holes.

That's roughly where this blog might have ended had it not been for two old-timers who came out and showed the young bucks how to play Augusta.

Couples was tipped by many, including Phil Mickelson, to be a contender before the tournament and the three-time winner on the senior tour this year lived up to his billing.

The 50-year-old, who doesn't wear socks - he wears footwear similar to tennis shoes for his bad back and doesn't like wearing socks with tennis shoes - admitted it is a "pipe dream" to win the Masters at his age. "Can I still win? Of course," he said. "But I've got a lot of golf left to even think about being in contention."

Tom Watson hugs his caddie and son MichaelWatson has been joined on the course by his son Michael. Picture: Getty

But Kenny Perry lost a play-off at the age of 48 last year, and Tom Watson, 10 years older than Couples and just one stroke behind him, came within an inch or so of winning the Open last year, eventuallty losing in a play-off.

Jack Nicklaus revealed earlier this week that Watson was traumatised by failing to close out the win at Turnberry, but Watson himself says he is "still glowing" about his achievement because so many older people have told him he inspired them.

Watson has been quite public with his feelings that the newly stretched Augusta has become too much for him, but he showed that, with kind pin positions and a favourable wind, experience counts for a lot.

"The beautiful thing about this golf course is there's tragedy waiting on just about every hole," said Watson. "And you always know it."

The two-time Masters champion admitted he had been inspired by his son Michael, who is caddying for him this week. Watson Jr said: "Dad, show me you can still play this golf course." "You know what, I wanted to show him," replied his old man, who last shot 67 in 1990.

As well as experience, what Couples and Watson had in common at Augusta on Thursday was the fact that they both took only 24 putts. That's compared to 29 each for Mickelson, Lee Westwood and YE Yang, and 27 for KJ Choi, the other men tied with Watson on five under.

The old boys may not have the length of the younger fellas - Watson averaged 281 yards with his drives and Couples 286 yards, compared to 291 yds, 291.5 yds, 292.5 yds, 294 yds for Yang, Choi, Westwood and Mickelson respectively. (Woods averaged 299, by the way.)

But when all is said and done, it's your ability to get the ball in the hole that counts most in this game. And the man who perhaps understands this the best is Woods, which is why a fifth Green Jacket is now a distinct possibilty.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Good blog Rob.

    Was a very interesting day and all that has been going on with Tiger recently has been very strange indeed. If I was Tiger, I'd just be happy that I was filming adverts for sponsors again!

    As for the action, it was a good battle - Typical opening day antics. Whether Couples and Watson can hold out for the 4 days only time can tell, but Woods did look ominous - what sets himself asside from the others is his ability to keep at that level for days straight. Will be very interesting tonight!

  • Comment number 2.

    Woods played superb, very focussed with only a a few loose shots (on the easier holes aswell) i cant beleive he has never shot below 70 on the first day at augusta before yesterday when he shot 68, i really cant see past him winning this now, to not play for 5 months then play like that is amazing and the mark of a true sporting Great!!

    Just wanted to say that the english boys of Westwood and poulter done really well especially poulter saving par getting down in 2 out of the bunker on the last, really think that if Woods does mess up ( which i dont think he will) one of these boys could give us the Major winner we've been looking for... !!

    Well done to Watson and couples aswell, i know that Couples was being tipped all over the place but how impressive is it that Watson is doing at his age... Big Acheivement!

  • Comment number 3.

    A great opening day, so many potential winners that have got themselves into promising positions at this stage, after coming so close at the Open I would love to see Watson win, Westwood as well would be great on account of English patriotism.

    I can't help but think how ominously placed Woods is, his character is such that I would not be at all surprised if he won this, creating quite a story.

    But there are a number of interesting stories in addition to Woods and the 'old-timers', Mickelson shrugging off his poor form, Immelman shrugging off his injury problems since winning here two years ago, in short, a fascinating opening day.

  • Comment number 4.

    woods has it in the bag - he'll win by at least 5 shots!

  • Comment number 5.

    A straw poll of the members of the Golf Club roll up reveals that we are all heartily sick of Tiger Woods.

    I have been watching the Masters for more years than I care to remember and this year was the worst start ever.

    The sight and sound of obsequious commentators protecting their jobs (mindful of Gary McCord perhaps) by falling over themselves to be nice to Tiger was almost too much to bear. Worst still we had to witness Tiger comitting the worst sin on a golf course; slow play. Where are the officials putting him on the clock; protecting their jobs too?

    It was fully one hour before we caught a glimpse of Ian Poulter. Soren Keldsjen, nice man though he is, got about four times more air time. Then when we did get to see Ian play, cut to Ken Brown giving us a bunker lesson. Aaargh!

    I am normally an easy going guy who enjoys a good round of golf and always congratulates good play. I do not particularly like myself when I find myself wishing Tiger would hit it in the trees. Trouble is when I do it I get no shot but his ball seems to bounce out into the middle of the fairway!

    On the plus side I do like Amen corner on the red button; hardly any mention of Tiger and we do get to see all the players.

  • Comment number 6.

    Woods doing what Woods does best,

    Love watching him play dont care about the "scandal" he is still a great man who still has the ability to impart some wisdom.

    Tiger too win so he can show these people who doubted him

  • Comment number 7.

    I enjoyed the coverage of the first day yesterday, but I have to say it seems like the Tiger Woods show. There are 96 players competing at Augusta, and the commentators only seemed interested in what Tiger was doing. I appreciate that you can only comment on the coverage you get from the host broadcasters, but Sam and Ken can only see one winner. What about the British contingent. Lee Westwood is tied 2nd and even Sandy Lyle is competitive. Come on boys, cheer our home players.

  • Comment number 8.

    Gordon Bourne @ 5 - You have indeed hit the nail squarely on the head. This was as near to idolatry as I have seen but one could see that some of it was forced. And what was Sam Torrance trying to say to Hazel at the close of play when she talked about him doffing his hat? "He was trying to be AMENIABLE, he said". Woods was so close to having a disaster it was uncanny. How many trees bounced him in the right direction? And boy was he ready to boil? The club went for a little jaunt twice and you could clearly see from his pout that he was close to the edge. Changed man my tailend. Few have doubted that he can play the game and probably better than anyone before him but he can also tell untruths with the best. A little while ago he was saying that he only thought of picking up a club very recently, yet last night in his "special" interview (that noone else was privileged to have), he said that he had been "grinding real hard for weeks on end". I really do hope that someone, anyone else but Woods goes on to show that this game is bigger than any one person

  • Comment number 9.

    Blame the Media for comments 5 & 8 not Tiger,

  • Comment number 10.

    I heard someone say yesterday that this was the greatest ever comeback in golf. Has anybody heard of Ben Hogan?

  • Comment number 11.

    I enjoyed the coverage very much so last night thanks beeb, excellent web coverage as always, enjoyed the american coverage on amen corner and, as always, the beebs commentators when it was on full coverage.

    I must admit, aside from the open, I don't follow golf too much when Tiger isn't playing and enjoyed his return, I thought from when his first shot went down the fairway he would have a good day and if his putting had been better he could be miles clear. But his driving and generally his approach play was very good, and seems ominous for the rest of the masters.

    I also, very much enjoyed Poulter and Westwood's game, though due to work I missed most of the latters round :-( and i'm glad to see Poulter finally stepping up, incedentally has anyone noticed his large improvement ever since he stop opening his mouth and saying silly things!?!?!

  • Comment number 12.

    It was good having Tiger back. Here in Kenya he has his support and I wonder what the fuss was about the scandal.

    His golf should be enough to want to watch him, unless there are other reasons.

    Go Tiger!!!

  • Comment number 13.

    i admit, i'm a tiger fan, but I would have to agree that there's too much talking about the shot he just played by pundits rather than seeing the action from other players. I mean the 9th super draw was good, but do we need to get a studio reaction seemingly every time!? red button amen coverage is much better to watch it....not focused on any one player.

    As for the controversy with the nike ad...its a nothing story. move on. bored. yawn. I quite liked it. was a bit like him realising that is fathers guidance has been missing the past few years to keep him focused.

    as for his play....ominous...maybe not for this tournament, but if this is him at 80%...i'd be a very worried pro for the year ahead.

  • Comment number 14.

    For the people who don't like the focus on Tiger.

    I think Billy Payne and the Masters committee has got to take some of the blame. If you listen to his opening speech you'd think that Tiger was the only player they invited to play.

    This speech was effectively the opening credits the Tiger Woods comeback show not welcome to the 2010 Masters.

  • Comment number 15.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 16.

    golf existed just fine prior to the masters in 1997 and the "coming" of Tiger Woods !!!

    I'm too young to remember much about nicklaus in his pomp ( the only other player in modern times to dominate majors as much as woods ).. did golf in his era become a one man show ?? Or was the presence of other great golfers in his era.. first palmer, then trevino and watson, and always gary player, stop golf from becoming a one man show in the 60s and 70s ? Is the lack of other truely great golfers in this era ( Mickleson, Els, etc havent won enough majors to be considered true greats in my eyes ), as much to blame for the tiger-dependency of modern golf ??

  • Comment number 17.

    Does anyone recognize that this man who has no respect for women chooses to return to a golf tournament where women are banned? He's trying to make amends? I don't think so. Take a year's winnings and donate them to a women's charity for domestic abuse or some similar and we'll begin to think he has even a tiny bit of respect for women.

  • Comment number 18.

    I have to say I am very impresed with the effort of Sandy Lyle.
    Unbelievably he managed to finish his round this time and didn't sulk and walk off the course.After seeing his start I would have had any money that he would be back in the clubhouse after 9 holes.
    I hope next year he doesn't play so that he doesn't take the place of some young guy who can play.
    What a girl.

  • Comment number 19.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 20.

    So while we are treated to the greatest shot ever seen at the 9th yesterday, there was no coverage at all of His playing partner Yang, the man who beat him last time out and eventually finished the day ahead of Him.
    Now that we have two Brits/Englishmen at the top perhaps you who worship Him can temporarily transfer your allegiances for a couple of days?

  • Comment number 21.

    It was mentioned by Hasel on the Live masters coverage that Ballesteros celebrates his 52nd birthday today!
    Today he actually celebrates his 53rd birthday.
    Jan Baert
    Belgium

  • Comment number 22.

    it's weird to see how those americans can still hold a candle alight for Woods;they keep on remindinding us of sevi's achievmentsbut you wou would'nt hear him or Nicklaus or even Tom Watson coming out with expletives or acting like they were baseball players clearing the back of their throats every minute

 

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