Paul Newberry, AP National Writer, Published April 08 2010
Tiger Woods returns to golf with a par on first hole of Masters
Woods, no longer sporting the goatee he had worn during practice, received a big ovation from the Augusta National crowd before he teed off at No. 1. The four-time Masters champion hit his drive into the fairway and put his second shot within about 15 feet of the cup, but his birdie attempt curled just wide.
This marked Woods' return to competitive play after a Thanksgiving night car wreck led to revelations of numerous extramarital affairs.
Woods took another par at No. 2, knocking his second shot over the green, against the edge of a bunker. A high wedge didn't spin back as much as he would have liked, and a testy downhill putt for birdie wasn't close.
But he bounced back at No. 3, the shortest par-4 hole on the course. Woods knocked his second shot to 5 feet and rolled in the birdie putt.
Woods was in the next-to-last group, playing with K.J. Choi and Matt Kuchar. There was some question whether there would be a rain delay as skies darkened and the wind picked up ahead of an approaching storm front.
"Make us proud!" a fan yelled as Woods walked up to the tee.
Amid all the cheers, a small plane flew overhead pulling a banner that alluded to the scandal.
But on this day, nothing could overshadow the world's greatest player returning from a five-month layoff, not even another turn-back-the-clock performance by Tom Watson.
The 60-year-old Watson, who nearly became the oldest major winner in golf history at last year's British Open, showed that wasn't a fluke. He grabbed the clubhouse lead with a 5-under-par 67, tying his best round at Augusta.
The last time he did it was 20 years ago. Watson closed with a 10-foot birdie putt at the tough 18th hole, set up by a brilliant iron shot that skipped along the right side of the green, caught the ridge and turned back toward the flag.
"What made the day so worthwhile was having my son Michael caddie for me," Watson said. "I wanted to shoot a good score for Michael."
Lee Westwood and Y.E. Yang, who rallied to beat Woods on the final day of the 2009 PGA Championship, were both at 4 under. David Toms, who failed to qualify for the Masters a year ago, was in the clubhouse with a 69.
Tocha Cunningham waited along the first fairway with her 15-year-old son, Jordan Salley, who is a huge fans of Woods and was attending his first Masters
"I'm ready to watch him. He's always been my favorite player. He's always been an inspiration," Jordan said.
The mother tried to discuss the scandal with her son.
"He understood, but Jordan did not want to talk about it because Tiger is his hero," she said. "He wanted to look beyond the personal and just focus on the golf."
Officials at Augusta National insisted that no one player — not even when it's the world's best embroiled in a scandal — would overshadow their tournament. And for a few moments, at least, that was the case as Jack Nicklaus joined Arnold Palmer at the first tee shortly after sunrise for the opening shots.
"I've never been up this early at Augusta," cracked the 70-year-old Nicklaus, who won a record six green jackets and agreed to return this year to join Palmer in a ceremonial role.
Sentimentality aside, most patrons were eager to get a look at Woods in comeback mode.
Bill Campbell set up his chair along the second fairway, hoping to catch one of the golfer's early shots.
"I'm expecting him to be wild off the tee," Campbell said, "but I won't be surprised if he pulls off a great round."
Mark Felt stationed himself along the third tee, which also afforded a view of the seventh green.
"He's going to come back sometime," Felt said. "Might as well be here."
The 70-year-old Nicklaus, a record six-time champion who last played at the Masters in 2005, agreed to return this year to hit the opening shots with Palmer. They both struck it down the right side, just off the fairway. Two security guards hustled out to pick up the balls.
"I hit a rookie tee shot," Nicklaus said with a smile. "I didn't put my contacts in, so I had no idea where it went. As long as I didn't hear it land, it's OK."
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.