AUGUSTA, April 6 ― Tiger Woods grabbed the spotlight while Swede Henrik Stenson snatched a share of the early first-round lead on a wild Thursday at the Masters that saw champion Sergio Garcia match the worst-ever score for a single hole at Augusta National.
Stenson, Canadian Adam Hadwin and Americans Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman signed for a three-under 69 atop the leaderboard while unheralded Tony Finau was out on the course penning the feelgood story of the day at four-under with five to play.
Woods’ first Masters since 2015 dominated the build-up to the tournament but he failed to produce the fireworks many had hoped for and the former world number one scrapped his way to a one-over 73 to sit four behind the clubhouse leaders.
Finau’s first Masters was in danger of being over before it even started when the 28-year-old journeyman suffered what appeared to be a gruesome ankle injury while celebrating a hole-in-one during Wednesday’s Par Three contest.
The cheers turned to gasps as Finau’s ankle dislocated, sending him to the hospital for treatment and an MRI.
Not willing to surrender his chance of playing in the year’s first major Finau hobbled his way to the top of the leaderboard ahead of a glittering lineup of major winners.
In stark contrast the horror story of the day was penned by Garcia who watched five balls splash into the pond guarding the par five 15th green leading to an eight-over 13, the stunned Spaniard’s hopes of becoming the fourth man to win consecutive Green Jackets all but disappearing in just a few minutes.
Australian former world number one Jason Day also watched his ball hit the drink, literally, when his shot landed in a patron’s beer on the opening hole.
While everyone had a good chuckle over Day’s plight, Garcia’s was hard to watch, his score matching the highest ever for a single hole in the 82-year history of the Masters.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” said a shaken Garcia, after carding nine-over 81. “It’s the first time in my career where I make a 13 without missing a shot. Simple as that.
“I felt like I hit a lot of good shots and unfortunately the ball just didn’t want to stop. I don’t know, it’s just one of those things. So it’s just unfortunate, but that’s what it is.”
Woods, who is bidding for a fifth Green Jacket, may not have set Augusta alight with his opening round but he was happy to be in contention at one-over par.
“A 73 is fine,” he said. “By the end of the week this will be a pretty packed leaderboard the way the golf course is set up.
“They have it right where they want it. It’s really hard to run away from it, but it’s also really easy to lose it out there.
“By the end of the week there will be a bunch of guys with a chance to win this tournament.”
Dressed all in black, Woods got his day off to a wobbly start when he sent his opening tee shot deep left into the pines but he was unruffled and recovered to make par.
Although Woods was playing his first Masters in three years, he looked at home, rolling in a 10-footer at the par-four third to collect his first birdie and draw a roar from the crowd.
Still on the comeback trail following spinal fusion surgery last April, Woods showed a touch of competitive rust by carding back-to-back bogeys at the fourth and fifth and then slipped further down the leaderboard with two more at 11 and 12.
The 14-time major winner, however, would not sign off without giving the massive audience that followed him all day something to cheer, hitting back with birdies at 14 and 16. ― Reuters