He's back: Tiger gets off to good start at Masters in 1st competitive tournament since car crash
Woods goes 1-under 71; Canada's Conners opens at 2-under 70, tied for 7th
He walked among the azaleas with just the slightest hint of a limp.
He couldn't quite bend over to read the putts on Augusta National's tricky greens.
Woods' greatest comeback yet got off to an electrifying start Thursday when he shot a 1-under 71 in the opening round of the Masters, four shots behind leader Sungjae Im.
"To end up in the red," he said confidently, "I'm right where I need to be."
Corey Conners of Listowel, Ont., was the top Canadian, finishing shooting a first-round 70 in a tie for seventh. Fellow Canadians Mackenzie Hughes and Mike Weir, who were the co-Par-3 contest champions on Wednesday, shot a 73 and 74, respectively, tied for 31st and 43rd for the championship.
WATCH | Canada's Conners in contention following opening round of Masters:
Im, the 24-year-old South Korean known for rarely missing the centre of the club face, ran off three straight birdies at the start, recovered from a pair of bogeys with a 12-foot eagle putt on the 13th and added a late birdie for a 5-under 67.
He was one shot ahead of Cameron Smith, playing for the first time since winning The Players Championship a month ago.
WATCH | Im opens Masters atop leaderboard:
Dustin Johnson, who held off Im and Smith when he won the Masters in November 2020, was four under through 10 holes and poised to present a daunting target with the scoring holes ahead of him. He had to settle for pars, dropped a shot late and was in the large group at 69.
Also at 69 were former Masters champion Danny Willett, world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler and Joaquin Niemann, who holed out for eagle on No. 9 and still didn't get the biggest roar of the round. He was playing with Woods, who heard them all day.
As Woods walked briskly toward the clubhouse after a grueling day that stretched to nearly five 1/2 hours, he heard shouts of "Way to go, Tiger!" from the spectators.
He was just three strokes off the lead, with roughly half the field still on the course after making three birdies, a pair of bogeys and a whole lot of solid pars — many of them salvaged by his deft touch around the greens.
Woods pulled off one last Houdini act at No. 18. After yanking his tee shot into the towering pine trees on the right, he had to lay up short of the green.
WATCH | Woods gets off to solid start in opening round of Masters:
But he pitched to six feet and rolled in the putt to keep his score under par.
"I felt good," Woods said. "Once the adrenaline kicks in and I get into my own little world, I knew I should be able to handle business.
Yep, there's still a long way to go. Woods still must prove his body can bounce back day after day — four of them, should he make it to Sunday.
But it felt as if he was already a winner.
"You just can't not watch him," said Smith. "It's an inspiration with him coming back and playing golf."
With storm clouds giving way to brilliant spring sunshine, Woods defied everyone's expectations.
When Woods delivered an emphatic clutch of the right fist after rolling in a 30-footer for birdie at the 16th hole, it seemed like old times at one of golf's most hallowed courses.
From the collapse of his marriage to multiple surgeries, Woods has always found a way to bounce back.
He's doing it again, looking every bit like the guy who's won five green jackets and defied the odds time and time again.
A tap-in birdie at No. 6 sent the patrons into a frenzy. A sloppy bogey at the par-5 eighth brought some groans, but Woods' brilliant short game kept him from posting one of those big numbers that can spell doom at Augusta.
Working through recovery from injury
He made it clear he had every intention of winning when he decided to make the Masters his first competitive tournament since that horrific car wreck in February 2021 led him to say doctors said his right leg might need to be amputated.
Woods' career was in jeopardy after the car wreck left him confined to a hospital bed for three months. Woods was out of the public eye until last November, when he posted a video of him swinging a club with a simple message, "Making progress."
His lone tournament in the 508 days since he last competed was a just-for-fun event in December in which he rode in a cart and was paired with his 13-year-old son, Charlie.
WATCH | Masters Preview: Tiger's return, Canadians to watch, McIlroy goes for 'Grand Slam':
Despite the long layoff and the obvious physical limitations with screws and rods still holding the bones in place in his right leg, Woods clearly thinks he can win his sixth green jacket.
At 46, he would be the oldest Masters champion by three weeks over Jack Nicklaus.
The biggest question is how Woods holds up over 18 holes over four straight days, presuming he makes the cut as he always does at Augusta.
He walked 18 holes last week — his first big test — during a scouting trip with his son.
Playing an entire tournament will be much more challenging.
"Lots of ice," he said, breaking into a big grin.
Just like old times.