“Fore, please. Tiger Woods.”
It still feels surreal that the defending Masters champion, a 15-time major winner is greeted to the sound of silence when he tees off at this year’s Masters.
In a normal year, Tiger Woods surrounds himself with patrons on either side, hearing raucous cheers and applause as he begins his Masters on the first tee.
The 2020 Masters epitomizes abnormality.
In the early morning, Woods began his 2020 Masters on the difficult 10th hole, to only the sound of rustling Georgia pine trees.
No applause. No cheers. Just the crunch of a driver hitting a golf ball upon contact.
In an unprecedented year, filled with stark changes to our daily lives, seeing Woods atop the Masters leaderboard feels normal.
— The Masters (@TheMasters) November 12, 2020
It’s the feeling one experiences when the aroma of home-baked cookies comes out of the oven or opening presents under the Christmas tree.
All is right with the world. Such is the case with Tiger in contention at a major championship.
“I did everything well,” Woods said to reporters after his round. “I drove it well, hit my irons well, putted well. The only real bad shot I hit today was I think 8. I had a perfect number with a 60-degree sand wedge and I hit it on the wrong shelf. Other than that, I just did everything well. The only I could say is that I wish I could have made a couple more putts.”
Woods shot a bogey-free four-under 68, putting him three back of the lead. For context, when he won last year’s Masters, he only shot an opening-round 70.
It is the first time since the 2009 PGA Championship where Woods shot a bogey-free round at a major. In the three previous bogey-free opening rounds at majors, Woods ended up finishing no worse than second and won two tournaments, the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach (where he won by 15 strokes) and the 2000 Open Championship at St. Andrews (won by eight).
At the Masters, Tiger shot under-par opening rounds eight times. He’s finished no worse than eighth and won four of those tournaments, including last year.
Starting the Masters with the punitive 10th, followed by Amen Corner, is no easy task. Woods looked confident on those holes, finishing the four-hole stretch at one-under-par, with a birdie on the 13th.
The fact Woods made par after missing the fairway on 11 and was aggressive in going for the pin on the unforgiving par-3 12th over Rae’s Creek showed the five-time Masters champion’s fearlessness on the course.
🐯 Career-best opening round at the Masters.
🐯 First bogey-free opening round at the Masters.
🐯 First bogey-free round in a major in his last 106.@TigerWoods has found his form. 🐅 pic.twitter.com/hUWaKjHRa9
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) November 12, 2020
“There is a sense of when I come here because I understand how to prepare for this course,” Woods said.
No clearer image of how abnormal this year’s Masters is than Woods’ performance on holes 15 and 16. Normally crowded with patrons sitting in the stands, cheers reverberating all around Augusta National, now is bare except for the golfers that play these iconic holes.
Woods birdied the two consecutive holes today. Seeing the Big Cat’s name rise on the leaderboard means electric roars throughout the course.
Instead, Tiger walked to the 17th hole, his mindset focused on the next shot.
The Thursday leaderboard at the Masters features many names that resonate with the past. Paul Casey, a fixture in 21st-century golf, sits alone atop the leaderboard after firing a seven-under 65. Lee Westwood, who still is looking for his first major despite his numerous appearances, sits tied with Woods at four-under-par.
Even as younger players like Justin Thomas or Bryson DeChambeau get in the mix, something is soothing about seeing a constant tenant of the game in contention.
In a year like 2020, at a Masters tournament unlike no other, seeing Woods in the mix, even after 18 holes, is the smallest semblance of normality needed to know we are going to witness a drama-filled event.