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Tough Times for Tiger

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) -- Tiger Woods stood on the first green, looking back up the fairway in search of some sign that his long day was finally over. A few minutes later it was, and he sprinted quickly toward the clubhouse as if trying to flee Augusta National.
Who could blame him, after a day that began with back-to-back blunders and ended 28 holes later with Woods finding himself in territory as unfamiliar as the brown muck surrounding the fairways was to his fans.
A fat opening round of 76 -- his worst ever in the first round of a major championship -- was salvaged only somewhat by a brief flurry of birdies in the second round he is still eight holes from finishing.
Woods ended the day at 2-over par, tied for 23rd and eight shots off the lead of Mike Weir.
It was bad, but it could have been much worse.
That may have been why Woods was still smiling as he chatted with amateur playing partner Ricky Barnes and tossed a ball up and down as they waited on the second tee -- his 29th hole -- for the horn to signal that it was too dark to play.
Woods had the look of someone who had gotten a reprieve.
''I feel like I'm right where I need to be. I've still got a chance,'' Woods said. ''There's a long way to go and the leaders aren't going to run away and hide.''
That can't be comforting to the players in front of Woods, who must now spend a long Saturday looking for signs that the world's best player is making a charge.
Still, if Woods is going to make history by winning a third straight green jacket, he's going to have to do something else no one has ever done -- come back from a 10-shot, first-round deficit to win The Masters.
''Obviously, I'd like to be a little better than I am, but I'm on the right track,'' Woods said. ''I made some progress.''
Woods had already been delayed a day by rain in his quest for a record third straight win when he arrived at Augusta National. He met a nervous Barnes on the first tee and offered him a bit of advice.
''Just enjoy yourself and things will go OK,'' Woods said.
For 18 holes, things went just fine for Barnes. It was Woods who was having the problems.
A Masters he was heavily favored to win went bad quickly for Woods, who struggled to break 40 on his first nine and grimaced in disbelief as putts slid by hole after hole.
In the early cold and muck, he played poorly. When the sun came out, his game warmed up to merely indifferent.
As darkness loomed, he pounded a drive into the trees to the right of the 18th fairway, then hit another tree trying to get out and made bogey.
It was typical of a day when Woods was all over the place off the tee and struggled with both his putting and chipping.
''Obviously it was soft and slushy,'' Woods said. ''I caught a lot of fliers in the fairway.''
One of those came on the first hole when Woods hit a 4-iron over the green and had to chip back with a wedge. He hit the ball too hard, though, and it rolled off the front of the green.
Trying to be more precise, Woods hit his second chip up the hill, only to leave it short and watch as it rolled back toward him.
With typical Woods' flair, he then chipped the next one in.
''I had so much practice pitching, I figured I'll just pitch it in,'' Woods said.
As he fell off the leaderboard right away, fans slogging through the mud to watch couldn't believe what they were seeing.
At times, Woods couldn't believe it, either. He shot 39 on the front nine, then hit a drive down the middle of the sloping 10th hole.
When Woods arrived at the ball, he slapped his hands together in frustration when he saw mud sticking to the ball.
''Oh mud,'' he yelled as his second shot trailed off into the right bunker.
Barnes beat Woods by an astonishing seven shots over the first 18 holes, and it was the U.S. Amateur champion, not Woods, who got the big ovation when he hit it close and made a birdie on 18.
''He made some bombs today,'' Woods said.
Woods won three U.S. Amateurs himself, often trailing on the final day. But he always came back in the 36-hole finals, just as he was doing against Barnes when the round was called.
Incredibly, Woods made no birdies in the first round. It was the first time since the third round of the 1999 British Open that he had played a round without a birdie. When his first came on a tap-in two-putt on the par-5, 13th hole, he smiled widely and raised the ball in the air to the crowd.
Woods promptly birdied the next hole, then made his third birdie in four holes by running in a 25-footer on No. 16. His momentum was slowed by the bogey on 18 and he made a routine par on the first hole before play was halted.
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