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Thursday, April 9, 2009
Updated: April 10, 9:05 AM ET
Opening-round start familiar for Woods

By Bob Harig
ESPN.com

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- With purpose, Tiger Woods left a brief media session behind the 18th green and made a beeline for the Augusta National putting green.

Tiger Woods
How rough a day was it on the greens for Tiger Woods on Thursday? His 32 putts put him in a tie for 83rd in the 96-player field.

Within minutes, a half dozen golf balls were dropped on the surface, a couple of tees were pushed into the ground, and a putting drill commenced under the watchful eyes of coach Hank Haney and caddie Steve Williams.

The four-time Masters winner didn't express much displeasure with his putting, but the numbers bore out a different story: 32 putts, tied for 83rd in the Masters field. (Only Ernie Els, with 34, had more.)

Statistics are often misleading in golf, and Woods' 2-under-par 70 in the opening round Thursday was actually quite good considering that at one time he appeared to be spinning his wheels while everyone else was speeding through the storied course.

"I had good pace, just didn't make any putts," said Woods, whose 70 remains his lowest first-round score in 15 Masters appearances. "I hit good putts, then made one on 14. But the whole idea is I was hitting putts on my line, just got to read them a little bit better."

If there is reason for concern on a day when Woods hit the ball beautifully, it is that he complained about too many missed putts in the past three years when he finished tied for third (2006), third (2007) and second (2008).

Woods hit 10 of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens in regulation. But two of his four birdies were of the two-putt variety on the par-5 13th and 15th holes. He made just one long putt at the 14th and a kick-in birdie at the ninth.

And all the while, it seemed as if everyone else was going low. Chad Campbell had it to 9 under par and was threatening the course and major championship record of 63 before settling for a 7-under-par 65 -- the first in the tournament since Woods shot 65 during the third round in 2005. There were 38 rounds under par and 19 in the 60s on Thursday.

It took Woods until the ninth hole to make his first birdie and he didn't get under par for the round until making another birdie at the 12th.

"It's a long week, and the weather is going to start changing a little bit here, and you've just got to keep patient, stay with it," said Woods, playing in his first major championship since winning the U.S. Open in a playoff last June. "It's not like I haven't been in this position before. Just kind of hang in there, just take care of the back nine.

"This day was reminiscent of how it used to be. You could go out there on that back nine and make some birdies and shoot some pretty good numbers."

And that's what Woods did. After barely missing a birdie on the 12th, he rattled off three in a row from the 13th through the 15th holes.

Then he started missing a few that could have gone in. He had a 10-footer for birdie at the 16th and a 4-footer at the 17th and both stayed out of the hole.

"There's a lot of luck in putting," Haney said. "He may hit great putts and they might not go in. There's a lot of ways you can miss putts. You can be off on your speed. You can mishit it. Some of those things he doesn't do very much because he's so solid mechanically. Still, there are a lot of variables."

Still, Woods had a chance to get into the 60s if he had parred the 18th hole. But he missed the green long with an 8-iron and faced a difficult pitch that trickled to the front of the green -- with the pin in the back.

From there, he two-putted for a bogey and a 70 that left him 5 shots back of Campbell and in a tie for 20th place.

The only time Woods has won from farther back after the first day was in 2005, when he was 33rd after opening with a 74.

In each of his other three victories, Woods shot 70 in the first round.

Still, it remains odd that Woods has never shot in the 60s in a first round here, a fact that was mentioned to him.

"Yeah, but that's how I won it four times, too," he said.

Duly noted.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.