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    The Masters: Tiger Woods follows in Jack Nicklaus’ footsteps with strong start at Augusta

    Tiger Woods rubbishes talk he is ‘washed up’ at Augusta… the Masters brings out the best in him and now, with the same ranking as the 1986 hero, he aims to follow Jack Nicklaus’ footsteps to win a sixth green jacket

    • Tiger Woods’s career was one again aligned closely to that of Jack Nicklaus
    • As Woods bids for a sixth green jacket, similarities were drawn back to 1986
    • Nicklaus, like Woods now, was seen as washed up before winning the Masters
    • Woods impressed on Thursday and looks at home at Augusta National course

    Here’s a spooky coincidence for you. In 1986, the supposedly washed up Jack Nicklaus, ranked 33rd in the world, claimed his sixth green jacket, 23 years after he won his first.

    At the 84th Masters on Thursday, the supposedly washed up Tiger Woods, ranked 33rd in the world, began his quest for a sixth green jacket….. 23 years after he won his first.

    Is there any point at which the careers of the two greatest players of all time isn’t inextricably linked?

    Tiger Woods hoping history can repeat itself as he looks to win a sixth green jacket at Augusta

    Jack Nicklaus (right) was seen as washed up ranked 33rd but he went on to win the tournament

    Jack Nicklaus (right) was seen as washed up ranked 33rd but he went on to win the tournament

    As Tiger wandered to the 10th tee, some 20 minutes after Bryson DeChambeau began his quest, we had another inconceivable ‘first’ in this year full of them. 

    When Woods tapped in for his win last year, imagine someone saying to you that he would begin his defence with half the watching audience of Bryson? Indeed, this must have been the first time since Tiger won this event by 12 strokes on his debut in 1997 that someone else in a major played in America attracted more interest.

    Not that Tiger was alone. About 100 people comprising media, volunteers and interested parties kept him company down the steeply downhill fairway, where he followed an ideal three wood with a terrible iron approach. 

    ‘Must have got a mudball,’ said a member of his coterie. Doesn’t Tiger just hit bad shots now and then?

    Woods has endured a difficult year but found some early rhythm and he never looked back

    Woods has endured a difficult year but found some early rhythm and he never looked back

    Woods insisted afterwards that he is happy with 'every facet of my game' at Augusta National

    Woods insisted afterwards that he is happy with ‘every facet of my game’ at Augusta National

    A feature of his stellar Augusta career, however, is that he has always known where to miss the greens, the spots that give him the best chance of recovery. Here he played a beautiful chip to tap-in range for a par. You take that at any time on the 10th, and particularly when it’s your starting hole.

    Similarly the 11th, where Woods struck two beauties to 20ft below the hole, and two putted. What must have been going through his head at the 12th, the hole where it all unfolded in his favour last year? 

    No grandstands this time, of course. No manic cheering as he went through his pre-shot routine. As the ball landed, he looked a little anxious, worried that it would spin back into Rae’s Creek. ‘Fringe,’ he called with relief to his caddy Joey LaCava, as the ball came to rest on the edge of the green.

    At the 13th he registered his first birdie with two lovely shots into the middle of the green at this neutered par five. 

    This was proving the ideal start, a world away from the Tiger we’ve seen so far this year, with no top 35 finishes in seven starts since February. T’was ever thus, at this place.

    It was fascinating that most of the attention was on Bryson DeChambeau, instead of Woods

    It was fascinating that most of the attention was on Bryson DeChambeau, instead of Woods

    What was particularly encouraging was his sure touch on the greens. At the 14th, where the slopes are positively elephantine, he got down in two from long range. At the par five 15th he was over the back of the green but again got down in two, chipping to 10ft and holing the putt. A par at the 18th and, at three under, he’d matched his best opening nine in relation to par in his entire Augusta career.

    On his back nine, Tiger continued to hit one solid shot after another. The scorecard might show he finished with seven straight pars but they were fashioned with the minimum of fuss or stress. 

    ‘I’m happy with every facet of my game,’ he said, rather ominously for everyone else. 

    ‘It’s about experience, a sense of ease coming here. I understand how to play this course and I think I showed that.’ 

    At his final hole, one more beautifully crafted approach left him with a 10ft birdie putt to shoot the lowest opening round of his Masters career. He grimaced as it slipped just by, perhaps aware of the significance. It was a small disappointment on a day filled with promise.

    Washed up? At Augusta National, it never pays to write off Tiger, just as it never did with Jack. 

    Woods made little fuss as he navigated the course and it was an encouraging opening round

    Woods made little fuss as he navigated the course and it was an encouraging opening round

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