AUGUSTA, Georgia - Tiger Woods failed to find any sort of rhythm in his much-anticipated U.S. Masters return on Thursday but did well to finish three shots behind the early clubhouse leaders in the year's first major.
Woods, who missed the last two Masters because of back issues, was followed by hordes of supporters all day but he was unable to deliver the type of roar-inspiring shots he once did with ease at Augusta National.
The four-times winner, who struggled to keep many of his tee shots from sailing right and could not take advantage of any of the four par-five holes, steadied the ship late on to post a one-over par 73 including four bogeys and three birdies.
That left him three shots adrift of Marc Leishman, former Masters champion Zach Johnson and Bernd Wiesberger of Austria, who were all in the clubhouse at two under par.
The fact Woods was even in the field was impressive considering it was only last September when he said he may never compete again as he was recovering from spinal fusion surgery.
But after an encouraging return to competition this year that included a trio of top-12 finishes in three of the five tournaments he played, Woods arrived at Augusta National as one of the favourites.
As expected, the 14-times major champion was greeted at the opening tee by a rousing ovation. Dressed all in black, Woods acknowledged the well wishers at the first hole with a subtle nod and touch of his visor and then got right to work.
After two pars to start his round Woods got into red figures when he drained a 10-foot birdie putt at the par-four third hole. But the former world number one followed up with consecutive bogeys at the fourth and fifth holes.
Woods had a solid chance to get back to even par but failed to capitalise on a solid tee shot at the par-three sixth after his eight-foot birdie attempt went just left of the hole.
The 11th brought more trouble as his tee shot sailed way right of the fairway. From there Woods hit a low stinger toward the green that hit someone in the gallery and he was unable to get up and down.
Woods was then left in disbelief when his tee shot at the par-three 12th ended up in Rae's Creek. After chipping to the edge of the green he salvaged a bogey with a lengthy putt.
Birdies at 14 and 16, the latter producing the loudest roars directed at Woods all day, took him to one over.