Tiger Woods received a rousing ovation that was three years in the making on Thursday as the smiling former world number one made his much-anticipated return to the U.S. Masters.
Dressed in black on a clear but cool morning at Augusta National Golf Club, Woods acknowledged the well wishers at the first hole with a subtle nod and touch of his visor.
The four-times Masters champion, easily one of the most popular golfers of all time, then got right to business, smacking his first shot into the pine straw left of the fairway en route to an opening par.
Woods is considered one of the favourites to collect a 15th major title this week, less than a year after spinal fusion surgery relived him from years of debilitating back pain that kept him out of the last two Master.
The 42-year-old, who finished in the top-12 in three of the five tournaments he has played this year in his latest comeback, has been the major talking point and the main draw all week at Augusta National.
Woods made another par at the second hole before draining a 10-foot birdie putt at the third to reach one under.
“Definitely Tiger,” Chris Neubauer, a 31-year-old construction manager from San Diego, said when asked who he was watching most closely in the opening round. “There’s just something real exciting about watching him.”
Alexis Carras, an 18-year-old student from Michigan, was also following Woods on her first visit to Augusta National.
“My parents grew up in his heyday and they idolized him,” Carras said. “He made golf cool and so it’s awesome to be out here watching him for the first time.”