'Long way to go': Tiger Woods makes Masters return 14 months after car smash

15-time major champion makes solid comeback at Augusta

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Tiger Woods, making an incredible comeback 14 months after suffering severe leg injuries in a car crash, fired a one-under par 71 on Thursday for a solid start at The Masters.

The 15-time major champion, seeking his record-tying sixth Green Jacket, made three birdies and two bogeys at Augusta National.

Woods sank a 29-foot birdie putt at the par-3 16th and closed with a 10-foot birdie putt at the par-4 18th.

The 46-year-old superstar, who has slid to 973rd in the world rankings, walked slower and apart from his playing partners much of the round and used a club as a walking stick on hills at times.

Woods was hospitalised for weeks and unable to walk for months after a car accident in February 21 and says he still plays through pain but he made an astonishing recovery to return at the Masters, where he won his first major title 25 years ago and made his most recent prior start 17 months ago.

With a victory, Woods would become the eldest Masters champion, three weeks older than Jack Nicklaus in 1986, and the third-oldest major winner after Phil Mickelson (50) and Julius Boros (48).

Woods was tied for 10th, four shots behind South Korean Im Sung-jae, who launched his round with three straight birdies and finished with five birdies and an eagle in his five-under-par 67.

Australian Cameron Smith was a stroke back after a 68 that was all the more remarkable considering it was bookended by double bogeys at the first and 18th holes.

"The place was electric," said Woods. "I hadn't played like this since 2019 when I won because in 2020 we had Covid and we had no one here, and I didn't play last year.

"So, to have the patrons fully out and to have that type of energy out there was awesome to feel. People have no idea how hard it's been."

Woods revealed his legs are sore, which he expected, but was happy to compete over five hours on soft turf and so many undulations.

"I did something positive today," said Woods. "I was able to finish up in the red. I'm right where I need to be."

"There's a long way to go and a lot of shots to be played. I am as sore as I expected to feel."

Former champion Danny Willett was a shot off the lead after an opening 69, with defending champion Hideki Matsuyama carding a 72.

England's Paul Casey withdrew before the start of play due to the back injury which also forced him out of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play last month.

Updated: April 08, 2022, 9:13 AM