Tiger Woods keeps head down in Masters' first round

Tiger Woods on the No. 14 fairway during the first round of the 2013 Masters.

Tiger Woods on the No. 14 fairway during the first round of the 2013 Masters.

— For a while on the front nine, it appeared Tiger Woods wasn’t in the best control of his golf ball.

A hooked second shot left him no angle at No. 2. His head went down in disgust, if not the club.

A substandard pitch missed the green on the right side at No. 3. Head down, shoulders slumped.

A double-crossed 3-wood tee shot headed toward the left trees on No. 7. Head down in frustration.

A long-iron second shot went over the green at No. 8, and he didn’t appear to like the shape. Head down once more.

This was your Masters favorite, a winner of 14 major championships, but his body language on those holes would have fooled you.

The scorecard, though, looked better than those four visuals. He got up and down at Nos. 2-3 for par and for birdie at the eighth. He would go on to hit nine fairways and 13 greens in regulation. And, despite missing 6-foot putts at Nos. 14 (for par) and 15 (for birdie), he managed a 2-under-par 70 Thursday that left him pleased in the first round of the Masters.

“It was a good solid day . . . a good start,” Woods said. “I hit the ball very solid today and lag-putted pretty well and I made a few here and there.”

His best shot was from the tee at the par-3 sixth, where his ball ended up two feet from the cup on the upper-right ledge. His best putt was a terrific lag on the 13th – a 70-footer that broke about 20 feet to the right and trickled down to tap-in birdie range.

“Normally that putt is hard to get inside 10-12 feet because it just runs right off of (a ledge) and there wasn’t even any of that fear today of it rolling out like it did,” he said.

In other words, Woods was surprised that the normally slick Augusta National greens weren’t faster.

“The biggest challenge was just the speed of the greens,” he said. “They just weren’t quite there. They looked it, but they just weren’t quite putting it. They didn’t have the roll-out.”

Woods also said something that has come out of his mouth about a thousand times: “I’m right there.”

“Right there” means in contention, within striking distance. In this case, that means four strokes off the lead.

A 70 not only wasn’t a bad score on a day with little wind, it was perhaps a good omen for Woods. He opened with that same score in three of his four victories here. In his most recent success in 2005, he started with 74 but followed with 66-65.

Like the others, this 70 was witnessed by a massive gallery on the rolling hills. Only this time it included ski racer Lindsey Vonn, his new girlfriend. Recovering from a knee injury, Vonn wore a long sundress, had a brace on her knee and walked with a noticeable limp.

Woods himself used to walk with a limp because of a left knee surgically repaired four times. But those days are gone. He’s healthy now. He’s winning again – six times since late March 2012. And he’s happy. The relationship with Vonn is a reason for that.

“I think it’s just a balance, a balance in life,” Woods said pre-tournament regarding his recent golf success. “I think that’s what you’re seeing.”

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