There was no escaping Tiger Woods in Augusta yesterday.
Turn on the TV, there was Woods in his latest Nike commercial, staring at the camera in black and white as the disembodied voice of his father appeared to be address him from beyond the grave.
“Tiger, I am more prone to be inquisitive to promote discussion,” Earl says. “I want to find out what your thinking was. I want to find out what your feelings are and did you learn anything.”
Who knows what Tiger has learned recently. As for us, we learned that he really is a superhuman golfer after all as he carded a brilliant, four under par 68 to sit just two shots behind leader Fred Couples after and enthralling opening day at the Masters.
Had the Dali Lama or the Pope announced that he was teeing it up for fun in the Masters, it is doubtful that they would have drawn a bigger crowd than the one that swarmed around the first tee and putting green for the 1.42 pm group.
But if Woods imagined that anyone had forgotten about the sexual peccadilloes that has made him the subject of intense media scrutiny for the past few months, he only had to look up and see the patrons craning their necks to read the banner that trailed from the small plane that circled the grounds as the born again Buddhist prepared to make his return to the game.
“TIGER: DID YOU MEAN BOOTYISM” the banner read, the last word highlighted in the same shade of red that Woods usually reserves for his Sunday afternoon showboating.
Later in the afternoon another banner, possibly the same craft, read: “SEX ADDICTION? YEAH. RIGHT. ME TOO!”
Woods wore his usual game face for his reacquaintance with the game but there were smiles too as he strode to the tee and greeted KJ Choi, his caddie Andy Prodger and the American Matt Kuchar to roars of “Go Tiger” and rapturous applause.
Moments later a green jacketed Augusta member announced the next man on the tee to a crowd that was stacked 20 deep in places.
“Fore please. On the tee…….Tiger Woods.”
Would he be the same? The answer, one would have to say, was a resounding yes.
Sure, there were signs of ring rustiness but Woods was impressive as the cruised to the turn in three under par 33, following a birdie at the third and a bogey at the seventh with a spectacular eagle three at the eighth.
He began by ripping a cut driver up the first and while his approach obediently danced to attention eight feet from the cup, he under read the left to right break and walked off with a solid par.
The crowds were generous to him as he went about his business on the golf course for the first time since he won the JBWere Australian Masters last November and Woods acknowledged their cheers of encouragement with thank yous, tipping the peak of his cap as he continued his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’s all-time record of 18 major titles.
Was that a lack of sharpness at the second, where he tried to flip a wedge onto the downslope beyond the pin but overshot the target by 20 feet? Perhaps.
But it wasn’t long before we had the first Tiger birdie roar at the third, where he attacked with a driver, pitched to eight feet and drained the putt.
He was long with a hybrid at the par three fourth and screamed: “Aww come on!” as what he thought was a perfect shot bounded over the green. Would he slam his club and break the promise he made on Monday to modify his behaviour?
Instead, he chipped superbly to four feet and rolled in the par putt. He was back, most definitely back.
A bad drive at the seventh led to his first bogey of the week but his response was incredible. At the 570- yard eighth he split the fairway with his drive and then used the humps right of the green to feet an incredible long iron down to around eight feet. Eagle. The first recorded there on the opening day.
But the best was yet to come at the ninth, where he was blocked out by trees on the left but hit a 20 yard hook that bounded on the front of the green and finished up just 18 feet above the pin. Needless to say, he rolled in the putt to turn in three under par 33.
The back nine was just as good. Despite a bogey on the 10th, he narrowly missed for eagle on the 13th but did eagle the 15th after a stratospheric approach to six feet. It was the first time he has ever made two eagles in the same round at the Masters.
Planes might have been taking pot shots at him from the grey skies above but it appeared that Woods was only hearing the voice of angels. Is that you Earl?