Two years after believing his career was over, Tiger Woods put himself in contention for a first major title since 2008 on the opening day of the 83rd Masters.
Woods needed a nerve block simply to attend the Champions Dinner at Augusta National in 2017 and flew to London the same evening to consult a specialist about his ongoing back problems.
“I was done at that particular time,” Woods said when accepting an award from the Golf Writers’ Association of America in Augusta on Tuesday. “I had to get a nerve block just to be able to walk and come to the dinner.
“It was tough and uncomfortable. I ended up going to England that night, saw a specialist there, [and] they recommended, unfortunately for me, the only way to get rid of the pain I was living in was to have the spinal fusion surgery.”
The operation was a last roll of the dice, but proved a success, Woods returning to competition in November that year and then playing a full season in 2018, culminating in his 80th PGA Tour victory in the Tour Championship in Atlanta.
Woods had also contended for the last two majors of the year and carried on where he left off at Augusta, carding four birdies and two bogeys in an opening 70 to lie a shot off the clubhouse lead shared by playing partner Jon Rahm of Spain, former champion Adam Scot of Australia and South African debutant Justin Harding.
“I thought I hit a lot of good shots and if I missed I missed in the correct spots and had some of the simpler up and downs because of that,” Woods said.
“I missed a few (putts) for sure, misread a couple and hit one bad one at six, but other than that a good solid day.”
Seeking a fifth Masters title but a first since 2005, Woods had quietly reached the 14th hole in two under par before a pulled tee shot set up a moment of magic from the former world No1 and 14-time major winner.
Spotting a gap high in the pines, Woods threaded his second shot perfectly through the opening and on to the green, where he holed from 25 feet for an unlikely birdie.
This took the 43-year-old into a share of the lead, but he bogeyed the 17th and had to save par on the last after finding sand off the tee.
Coincidentally, Woods shot 70 in the first round of each of his first three Masters victories and since sitting 33rd after an opening 74 in his 2005 triumph, the last 13 champions were all inside the top 10 after the opening round.
This was bad news for Rory McIlroy, who needs to win the Masters to complete a career grand slam, but was outside the top 40 after an opening 73.
McIlroy was two over par for the day after bogeys on the 10th and 11th, rallied superbly to birdie the 13th, 15th and 16th, only to drop shots on the last two holes.
Denmark’s Lucas Bjerregaard enjoyed an impressive first round on his Masters debut, carding 70, which included five birdies, one bogey and a double bogey on the fourth, where his wayward tee shot hit a female spectator on the head.
Bjerregaard apologised to the unfortunate spectator on the fourth, but despite bleeding from a head wound she told him: “Don’t worry about it.”