- Bob Harig, Senior Golf Writer
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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Tiger Woods never has been much of a fast starter at Augusta National, and that trend continued Thursday during the opening round of the 77th Masters.
Woods, a four-time champion, shot 2-under-par 70, a score he has posted on four occasions during the opening round. Of course, he went on to win three of those times, but on a day in which conditions were not overly difficult, there was a feeling Woods had left a few strokes out there.
"It's a good start," Woods said. "Some years some guys shoot 65 starting out here. But right now I'm only four back and I'm right there."
Woods was four shots behind Australia's Marc Leishman, a 29-year-old Australian who is playing in just his second Masters, and Spain's Sergio Garcia, who had four birdies on the front nine in a bogey-free 66.
Woods did not appear happy with his play. He struggled to give himself a lot of good birdie looks, was frustrated at times with his iron play, and suggested the speed of the greens fooled him.
"It was benign, especially starting out," Woods said. "The wind picked up in the middle part of the round. Got a little swirly there at Amen Corner [the 11th, 12th and 13th holes], as usual. But overall, I think the biggest challenge today was just the speed of the greens. They weren't quite there. They looked it, but just weren't quite putting it."
Woods hit 13-of-18 greens but needed 30 putts, a number well above his average in victories last month at Doral and Bay Hill.
When he won the Masters in 1997, 2001 and '02, Woods opened each with a 70 and sat in fourth place, 15th place and seventh place after those year's respective first rounds. He shot 74 in 2005 and stood in 33rd place but went on to beat Chris DiMarco in a playoff.
Woods is playing in his 19th Masters, and only once has he broken 70 in the first round. That came in 2010, the year he made his season debut at the event and finished tied for fourth.
Despite a solid start and just one bogey, Woods' round had a disappointing air to it, especially given his recent play. A bogey at the 14th, followed by a par at the 15th, were the main reasons he failed to shoot in the 60s.
Woods was clearly not happy with his second shot to the par-5 15th after a huge drive set up what should have meant a good eagle chance. But Woods couldn't get up and down. He played the par-5s in 2 under.
At least that's better than last year, when he play the par-5s in just 1 under -- and never birdied any on the back nine. He tied for 40th in 2012, his worst finish as a pro here.
He failed to give himself good birdie opportunities at the second and third holes when he had a wedge for approach shots. In fact, he missed the third green and had to navigate a tricky third to save par.
He made his first birdie of the day at the par-3 6th, added another at the par-5 8th, then played Amen Corner in 1 under by birdieing the 13th, having knocked his approach on the green and setting up a long two-putt.
Woods pulled his approach to the 14th, and three-putted for his first bogey of the tournament. And then he was disgusted with himself when he missed the 15th green after a perfect drive.
He came into the tournament on a roll, having won his past two starts, at the WGC-Cadillac Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he exhibited some of the best putting of his career.
That pushed him back to No. 1 in the world, with plenty of expectations going into the Masters, which he has not won since 2005.
"Obviously, I'm not real happy with the fact that I haven't won more," Woods said prior to the tournament. "I've been in the mix and I just haven't gotten it done. But the whole idea is to give myself opportunities."
22hKevin Van Valkenburg