AUGUSTA, Ga. — David Toms beat the weather and Augusta National on Thursday, firing an opening-round 69 to grab the early lead at The Masters.
But all eyes were on Tiger Woods, who teed off at 1:42 p.m. ET with K.J. Choi and Matt Kuchar in what figures to be one of the most scrutinized opening rounds in golf history.
Woods shaved off the goatee he had worn during the practice round and was smiling as he waited to tee off Thursday. The four-time Masters champion received a big cheer from the Augusta National crowd when his name was announced. One fan yelled, “Make us proud!”
Woods’ first shot — a drive on the 445-yard first hole — landed on the right side of the fairway. He made par.
Rain and thunderstorms are predicted for Thursday afternoon, which could affect the rounds of the later starters.
Woods wasn’t the only player on the course — just the most watched. Elsewhere, Angel Cabrera, who defeated Kenny Perry in a playoff last year for his second major title, birdied three of the first eight holes Thursday to get to 3-under par.
Bernhard Langer shot 71. He was 3 under at one point in his round. John Senden also shot 71.
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The biggest cheers were for Tom Watson, who nearly became the oldest major champion in golf history at last year’s British Open before losing a playoff to Stewart Cink.
Now 60 and the oldest player in the field, Watson was 2 under despite knocking his ball in Rae’s Creek at No. 13. He bounced back from that miscue with a soft wedge shot near the hole, and sank the putt to save par.
Woods was playing for the first time since a Thanksgiving night car wreck led to revelations of numerous extramarital affairs.
Officials at Augusta National insisted that no one player — not even when it’s the world’s best embroiled in a scandal — would overshadow their tournament. And for a few moments, at least, that was the case as Jack Nicklaus joined Arnold Palmer at the first tee shortly after sunrise for the opening shots.
“I’ve never been up this early at Augusta,” cracked the 70-year-old Nicklaus, who won a record six green jackets and agreed to return this year to join Palmer in a ceremonial role.
Sentimentality aside, most patrons were eager to get a look at Woods in comeback mode.
Bill Campbell set up his chair along the second fairway, hoping to catch one of the golfer’s early shots.
“I’m expecting him to be wild off the tee,” Campbell said, “but I won’t be surprised if he pulls off a great round.”
Mark Felt stationed himself along the third tee, which also afforded a view of the seventh green.
“He’s going to come back sometime,” Felt said. “Might as well be here.”
The 70-year-old Nicklaus, a record six-time champion who last played at the Masters in 2005, agreed to return this year to hit the opening shots with Palmer. They both knocked it down the right side, just off the fairway. Two security guards hustled out to pick up the balls.
“I hit a rookie tee shot,” Nicklaus said with a smile. “I didn’t put my contacts in, so I had no idea where it went. As long as I didn’t hear it land, it’s OK.”