TIGER Woods played like he had never been away on his competitive comeback, shooting a superb four-under-par 68 to leave himself just two shots off the lead after the first round of the Masters.
Fred Couples was the surprise pace-setter, the 50-year-old, who won the Green Jacket in 1992, leading the field on six under, with fellow veteran Tom Watson among a pack of five players just one shot adrift. England’s Lee Westwood also signed for a 67 after a hugely satisfying opening day at Augusta National, as did two-time champion Phil Mickelson, KJ Choi and Yong-Eun Wang.
But all eyes were on how world No1 Woods would fare in his first tournament for almost five months, after a catalogue of much-publicised personal problems. The 14-time major winner did not disappoint.
Woods, who was greeted warmly by the always-respectful Georgia spectators despite his recent scandals, sank two eagles for the first time in a single Masters round, and came within a whisker of another. Had the American not narrowly missed a birdie chance at the 18th he would have been even better placed, but looks ominously poised to return to action with a remarkable triumph.
Tied with Woods on four under were American Anthony Kim and England’s Ian Poulter.
Scotland’s Sandy Lyle, 52, rolled back the years with a three-under-par 69 – a score matched by South African duo Trevor Immelman, who prevailed at Augusta just two years ago, and Charl Schwartzel.
England’s Paul Casey was on three under before taking eight at the 15th and finished three over.