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Tiger Woods fixes short game, struggles elsewhere in first round

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- For all the talk about his woeful short game heading into the Masters, Tiger Woods handled the most delicate shots quite impressively Thursday during the opening round at Augusta National.

It was the rest of his game that let him down.

Woods shot 1-over-par 73, a respectable score given all the doom and gloom that surrounded him and his game in recent weeks.

But there was too many errant tee shots, not enough precise iron shots and plenty of room for improvement.

He finds himself trailing leader Jordan Spieth by 9 strokes and in a tie for 41st.

"I felt good," Woods said. "I felt like I hit the ball well enough to shoot 3 under par. Our entire group [Jimmy Walker and Jamie Donaldson] was really struggling at the greens. We were talking about how slow they were today. We had a hard time hitting the putts hard enough. You've got to give respect to the downhill putts, but they weren't rolling out."

That said, Woods had just a single three-putt -- at No. 1 for the first of his four bogeys. He hit 10 of 14 fairways but missed badly at the ninth, leading to a bogey. He hit 11 of 18 greens, but none of the four bogeys were due to poor chipping.

"It's my strength again," Woods said of his chipping. "That's why I've busted my butt. That's why I took time off. That's why I hit thousands and thousands of shots to make sure that it's back to being my strength. And it did. I tried to hole most of them, that's the thing. I'm back to hitting shots, making it hop, check on the second bounce, third bounce. I can figure those things out again."

Woods has shot just one sub-par score in his last 14 major championship rounds, a 69 at Royal Liverpool in the first round of the Open Championship last summer.

But he had not played in a tournament since withdrawing from the Farmers Insurance Open on Feb. 5 with lower back stiffness. That was just his second tournament of the year, and he had played just 47 holes, missing the cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open the week prior.

Soon after, Woods announced an indefinite leave to work on his game, most notably chipping and pitching problems that some referred to as "the yips." Woods said he was caught between release patterns, and the results were some horrific shots around the greens, shocking for a player of his caliber.

But there were no real issues Thursday. After Woods birdied the eighth, he hit a horrible tee shot into the ninth fairway. From there, he sent his second shot into the trees and did well to get the third on the green and make bogey.

"I played the wrong shot," Woods said. "I was trying to turn it down there, and I really shouldn't have turned it down there. The hole is playing short. It's hot. The ball is flying. It's not that hard to hit the ball 300, 320 out here in this (heat). And I hit the wrong shot. And then on top of that, the next one I hit the wrong shot again. I tried to put the ball in the bunker when I probably should have put the ball short right of the bunker and pitched up."

There were good saves at the 10th and 11th, an excellent up-and-down after finding water at the 12th, a pitch and run for a birdie at the 13th, and a chip to save par at the 15th.

The problem is that is not sustainable. Woods missed too many greens. And his only birdies came at par 5s.

Yet there was optimism because of the short game.

"His chipping was awesome," caddie Joe LaCava said. "It's a work in progress, but he's on the uptrend."

Added Walker: "I'm glad he's back. He played OK. He had a couple wild shots. We all did today. So there was nothing big.

"He had some good pars where he got up and down. It was good to see him playing good. It's probably not what he wanted. It's not what I wanted."

A considerable amount of speculation centered on Woods' ability to make the cut this week. He talked about being just nine strokes back, but the reality is that Woods is near the cut line. The top 50 and ties advance to the final 36 holes, as well as anyone within 10 strokes of the lead.