AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Tiger Woods made a scrambling start to the 76th Masters on Thursday with an unlikely par at the opening hole after hooking his drive well left into pine trees followed by a birdie at the third.
With his ball ending up on pine straw, the former world number one and tournament favourite punched out a low second shot to 10 yards short of the green, chipped up to 10 feet then curled the putt into the left edge of the cup.
Woods’ errant tee shot at the first had left the packed gallery groaning in stunned amazement but his par save sparked loud cheers from the fans crammed around the green.
Bidding for a fifth green jacket at Augusta National, Woods then birdied the par-four third to trail early leader Henrik Stenson of Swede by two shots.
Stenson eagled the par-five second and then birdied the par-four fifth to get to three under in the season’s opening major.
Germany’s 2010 PGA Championship winner Martin Kaymer was a further stroke back after covering the front nine in two-under 34.
Triple major winner Padraig Harrington of Ireland and 2009 British Open champion Stewart Cink were among a large group knotted at one under.
Birdies and eagles were plentiful for the early starters on a sun-splashed morning at Augusta National where the severely contoured layout had been softened by heavy rain on the eve of the tournament.
Further rain was likely later in the day with a 70 percent chance of thunderstorms forecast in the late afternoon.
This week’s Masters is one of the most eagerly anticipated in years with virtually all of the game’s top players having arrived in good form at Augusta National.
Woods, who ended a two-and-a-half-year title drought on the PGA Tour with victory at last month’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, is hunting his 15th major title at a venue where he has always felt extremely comfortable.
U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland will be seeking redemption 12 months after a final-round meltdown in which he squandered a four-shot overnight lead with a closing 80.
World number one Luke Donald and fellow Briton Lee Westwood, who have become regular contenders in the game’s biggest events, will each be chasing a first major title, as will Australians Adam Scott and Jason Day, joint runners-up last year.
The 76th Masters began with a moment of nostalgia when the “Big Three” of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player launched the tournament with their ceremonial shots off the first tee.