By Frank Pingue
AUGUSTA Ga. (Reuters) – Tiger Woods made a solid start in his pursuit of a fifth Masters title with a quick birdie that left him one shot back of the early first-round leaders at Augusta National on Thursday.
Woods, who has not broken par in the opening round of the Masters since 2013, looked comfortable early on and was accurate off the tee at sunny Augusta National where an adoring crowd cheered his every step.
After a routine par at the opening hole where he smoked his tee shot, former world number one Woods picked up a birdie at the par-five second when he rolled in a four-foot putt after a great shot out of the front right greenside bunker.
Woods, who was solid with his driver, got up and down for another par at the par-four third to sit one shot back of South Africans Justin Harding (through 10 holes), Louis Oosthuizen (4), China’s Li Haotong (3) and Aaron Wise (10).
Despite the warm and sunny conditions, the Augusta National layout was still soft from rain earlier in the week and not playing nearly as fast as organisers would have liked.
Rory McIlroy, who arrived at Augusta National as the hottest player on the planet and needing a win to become only the sixth player to complete golf’s career grand slam, was one over through two holes after a bogey at the first.
Patrick Reed, trying to become the fourth repeat champion at Augusta National and first since Woods in 2002, was one over after five holes.
Among the big names not due on the course until later on Thursday are three-times champion Phil Mickelson, 2015 winner Jordan Spieth, world number one Justin Rose and No. 2 Dustin Johnson.
Thousands of eager golf fans lined up before dawn outside the Augusta National gates with hopes of scoring a prime viewing area and to catch golfing greats Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus hit the ceremonial first tee shots.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue, editing by Pritha Sarkar)