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Woods draws huge crowd, big cheers during practice

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AUGUSTA, Ga. – Spectators were gathered 15 deep along the rope line Monday as Tiger Woods returned to Augusta National.

Alongside Justin Thomas and Fred Couples, Woods created a surreal scene as he played the front nine amid huge crowds. The roars normally reserved for the back nine Sunday echoed through the pines when Woods chipped in behind the second green.

All this at the beginning of Masters week. 

Woods didn’t speak to the media after his round – he instead headed to the range, for more practice – but his playing partners did.

“I played with him a while ago when he came back, and it was crazy,” Couples said. “But he’s played a few tournaments and played well in them, so I think the people are excited to see him.

“He hit a few drives that were well worth watching, whether you paid for them or whether you’re in the tournament like me. It was pretty cool.”

Woods is playing the Masters for just the second time since 2013. Expectations have skyrocketed since his play during the Florida swing, when he finished in the top 12 in three events, including a runner-up showing at the Valspar Championship.

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Couples considers Woods one of his best friends, and they’ve played plenty of practice rounds here over the years. (This round Monday was apparently in the works for months.) They’ve also bonded over their ailing backs.

“But if you watched him play today, there’s not much of a back problem,” Couples said. “He’s hitting it a long way, and it looks beautiful.

“Today wasn’t any different than it was 10 years ago when I played with him. It was pretty awesome.”

Added Thomas: “No matter where he goes, it’s unbelievably loud and it’s really cool, but it’s even cooler here. … There’s no other tournament you hear roars in a practice round.”