AUGUSTA, Ga. – After grazing one spectator with an approach shot at No. 2 and knocking a beer out of another’s hands with a tee shot at No. 3, Tiger Woods managed to get around Augusta National without doing any further damage to himself or anyone else.
“Solid” was the word he used afterward to describe Thursday’s opening-round 70.
In fact, the biggest stir surrounding Woods on the course was his significant other, Olympic ski champion Lindsey Vonn, hobbling down the first fairway with her injured right knee in a brace to watch him play. She turned up later behind both the ninth and 18th greens to watch her man putt out. The photographers had a field day.
Vonn would be the daredevil half of just about any relationship. But her presence here served as one more reminder that for all of Woods’ reckless behavior off the course in years past, he still knows how to play cautiously when the situation demands it.
He saved par on three of the first four holes with a trio of 5-footers, then steadied himself and carved three birdies out of the next eight holes. His only hiccup came at No. 14, where he read different breaks in the green from in front of the hole and behind it and “just didn’t get committed to which way it was going to break.”
But Woods sounded decisive and at ease during the few minutes he spent in front the microphones out on the lawn in front of the stately old clubhouse, and here’s why: Three of his four green jackets came after shooting 70 in the first round, and this time it left him close enough to the lead and in a familiar position to conjure up some of the old magic.
“It’s a good start,” Woods said. “Some years, some guys shot 65 starting out here. But I’m only four back and I’m right there.”
Flashes of the old Tiger are reappearing. At a pre-tournament interview earlier in the week, he was asked if he would consider young Rory McIlroy his “main rival.”
“I think that over the course of my career, I’ve had a few. You know, certainly Rory is this generation. I’ve had Phil [Mickelson] and Vijay [Singh] and Ernie [Els] and David [Duval] for a number of years, and now Rory’s leading this new, younger generation.
“So, yes,” he said, finally. “Definitely.”
The most interesting thing about that answer is how it’s constructed. Woods begins by listing the guys he’s already smoked.