TIGER WOODS suddenly remembered who he is – and where he was – as he roared back to form at Augusta.
The defending Masters champion revived memories of his sensational victory here 19 months ago as he opened with a brilliant bogey-free 68.
That is Woods' joint lowest first round score in his 23 Masters appearances – he has only managed to break 70 once before, ten years ago, when he finished fourth.
Woods, 44, has been playing dismal golf this year. A share of 37th at the USPGA Championship was his best effort in his last seven outings.
But it seemed all he needed was a whiff of the Augusta air to re-invigorate him, and it did not take him long to show his rivals he would not give up the green jacket without a real fight.
It did not look too promising when he carved his approach shot to his opening hole, the fearsome 495 yards tenth, way left of the putting surface from the middle of the fairway.
But Woods’ loud grunt of "mud ball" explained that miss, and a brilliant chip ensured there was no damage done.
He missed a 25 footer for birdie at the 11th and followed with a rock solid par at the 12th, the scene of so much final day carnage when he came from behind to win a Major for the first time last April.
But he had come through a tough opening stretch that featured three of the four toughest holes at Augusta unscathed, and you could see the 15-time Major champion growing in confidence.
It meant he was in good shape to attack the two pars on the back nine, although he breathed a huge sigh of relief when his second shot to the 13th only just made it over Rae’s Creek.
A two-putt birdie there was followed by a similar effort at the 15th, and if there had been any fans allowed in they would have rocked the place with one of the famous Augusta roars as Woods almost holed his tee shot at the short 16th.
His tap-in birdie there took him to three under par, and it got even better as he set out on the front nine.
The first hole has caused Tiger plenty of problems in the past. He was a combined 17 over par there for his 86 previous Masters rounds.
But he shaved a shot off the deficit with birdie number four, nailing a curling twenty footer for his three, and the next big test came as he stood on the tee at the 195 yards fifth.
He bogeyed that hole every single day last year, otherwise he would have won with a bit to spare instead of scrambling home by one shot.
And he seemed to fear the worst as he pulled his approach shot left again. Watching as it came to rest in an awkward spot a few inches in front of a bunker.
Woods opted to putt through the fringe, and that strategy paid off as he coaxed his forty footer to within a couple of feet of the flag. That par must have felt like another birdie.
It eased his frustration at failing to take advantage of the two par fives on the front nine, as he coated home with a run of eight straight pars.
But it was still a loud reminder that it never pays to write the former world No 1 odd – especially at Augusta.
Woods told Sky Sports: "I understand how to play this golf course. It allows experience.
"People do well here late into their careers just understanding how to play this golf course.
"Every hole has been basically redesigned and resurfaced but the overall landscapes haven't changed and just understanding that from year to year really does help."
He added: "There were so many differences – not only the sight lines but the energy, there are no roars.
"I hit a shot into nine, my 18th hole of the day, and got four or five claps. The energy is so different.
"But we're able to compete for a green jacket this week which at the beginning of the year seemed improbable."
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