Woods Four Off the Pace after Day 1


AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The strokes that counted had all been accounted for by the time Tiger Woods stuck two tees into the practice green just off the first tee and began absent-mindedly stroking four-footers.
Caddie Stevie Williams came by with a handful of bananas, and Woods paused to peel one and devour the contents before going back to the business at hand.
This wasnt as much a practice session as it was therapy. Woods had putted decently all day, and there certainly wasnt anything wrong with the symmetrical stroke that always seems so ideally suited for the slick, rolling greens of Augusta National.
A few minutes earlier, he had pronounced himself satisfied with a round that seemed pedestrian by the high standards of the greatest player in the game. That was for public consumption anyway, though the odds are the talk Thursday night at the house Woods is renting for the week was more about opportunities that got away.
After the round, he putted a few balls without much purpose, running one up a hill and leaving another well short. Woods didnt even bother to finish them off, picking up his balls after less than 10 minutes on the green and heading for the clubhouse. Four security guards and two sheriffs deputies quickly formed an escort around him to keep any overly curious patrons away.
The first round of his first major of the year was now officially over. Woods was either on his way to a fifth Masters title and the historic first leg of the first Grand Slam of the modern era, or he wasnt.
The scoreboard certainly didnt tell the story. On a day when Augusta National seemed primed for a picking, Woods shot as pedestrian a 72 as he could put together to stand four shots behind perennial first-round leader Justin Rose and Trevor Immelman, another player who wont be getting fit for a green jacket on Sunday.
The odds are still good, however, that Woods will. A check of the record books will show that he rarely posts a good score on Thursday at Augusta National, where he hasnt broken par in the first round for six years. Hes never led after the first round, never shot better than 70.
Yet he always seems to be in the mix on Sunday afternoon, and the oddsmakers who made him an astonishing even money against the field this year arent about to begin sweating now.
Neither is Woods, who put the best spin possible on a round that could have ' make that should have'been better. It was as if he was trying to convince himself as much as others that even par wasnt such a bad number even when a lot of other players thought otherwise.
Its good, Woods said. I kept myself in the tournament. Im right there. With the weather supposed to be getting more difficult as the week goes on, Im right there.
Woods watches the weather as closely as he watches the changes to Augusta National that the green jackets who run the place try to slip in every year. He was right. Wind and thunderstorms are forecast for Saturday, temperatures are expected to drop, and Woods believes he handles adverse conditions better than anyone in the field.
The last time he won here, three years ago, he was down by seven shots after the first round, and seemed out of it. But a cold front moved in, the rains came, and Woods rode a spectacular streak of seven straight birdies in the rain-delayed third round to win his fourth Masters.
Woods could have made it easier for himself this time, though it wasnt all his fault. A metal pole on the bleachers behind the eighth green turned a probable birdie into par, and a ball that just trickled over the 13th green off a hooking 4-iron was the difference between possible eagle and eventual bogey.
I thought it was sweet, Woods said. It was 214 into the wind, right to left, and I just hit a big sweeping draw in there, one of the best swings I made all day.
Woods recovered to chip in for eagle on the par-5 15th, but he was a mere spectator for the greatest shot of the day. He was on the elevated sixth tee watching when Ian Poulter knocked in an 8-iron for a hole-in-one on the nearby 16th, sparking the biggest roar of the day.
All in all, it was a typical Woods opening round at the Masters.
He plays cautiously, not only to get a feel of the course but to get a feeling of what the players around him are doing. Then he goes back home, digests it all, and figures out a game plan that will bring him to the 18th green on Sunday with the green jacket waiting for him.
Nobody does that better than Woods. Nobody does it at all.
Theyre all just scrambling to shoot the best score they can, no matter what it takes or what the conditions are. They have to, because theyre overmatched before they get to the first tee.
A researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, studied 363 tournaments from 1999 to 2006 and came to the conclusion that other players shoot nearly one shot worse at any tournament Woods is entered in. Theres a ton of equations and graphs to explain why, but the bottom line seems to be that Woods intimidates other players.
You dont need to be in graduate school to figure that out. One look at the muscular Woods, striding down the fairway and wearing a shirt whose stripes matched some of the azalea bushes, was enough to intimidate three Zach Johnsons should they have the nerve to look.
Woods didnt need to practice his putting after his first round. He didnt need to work on his swing.
Hell be there on Sunday for one reason alone. He is Tiger Woods.
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