AUGUSTA, Ga. — If Tiger Woods is searching for a positive sign after opening the 77th Masters with a 2-under-par 70, it’s this: That’s the same first-round score he had the first three times he won the tournament.
He doesn’t have as many people in front of him as 2001, when he was tied for 15th after the first round. He has more than in 1997 (when he was fourth) or 2002 (seventh). This time, Woods is tied for 13th, within striking distance after a day when he wanted to position himself properly.
“It’s a good start,” said Woods, who had his new girlfriend, skier Lindsey Vonn, following him around the course. “It was a good, solid day. I hit the ball very solid today and lag-putted pretty good today and made a few here and there.”
Woods is trying to end a Masters drought that dates to 2005 (when he started with a 74) and a major championship drought that is approaching five years.
Doubles no trouble
Nobody wants to start the first round of a major championship with a double bogey on the first hole. Rickie Fowler did it one better — or worse, that is. He made double on the first hole of each nine, but offset those by making six birdies and an eagle to shoot 68.
“Played 16 holes really well,” said Fowler, whose score was his lowest in nine career Masters rounds. “Definitely challenged my short game today and got a lot out of that, kind of showed me that that’s here and working correctly. Going to go get a few swings in on the range, get it straightened out, and try to keep the ball a little bit more in front of us tomorrow.”
Charl Schwartzel also opened with a double bogey, and nearly began his Masters by hitting his drive into the media center. A slight exaggeration, perhaps, but his tee shot was well right of the first fairway, some 10 feet from an access road. After surveying his options he chose to flip an iron upside down and hit it lefthanded. His attempt to get back to the fairway caught a branch and remained in the pine straw, barely 20 yards away. His third shot went through the fairway, he knocked his fourth shot on, and then two-putted.
Schwartzel’s problems caused the group behind him — Zach Johnson, K.J. Choi, and Graeme McDowell — to start almost 10 minutes behind its scheduled time. The 2011 Masters champion, Schwartzel recovered nicely, making four birdies and shooting 71.
Jamie Donaldson became the fifth player in Masters history — and first since Chris DiMarco in 2004 — to make a hole-in-one on No. 6, which played 177 yards. Donaldson used a 7-iron, and fired directly at the flag, which was stuck in the difficult top-right shelf. “It was great to see the ball pitch right on line, just short, and it went in. It was pretty special,” said Donaldson, who shot 74 . . . Hopkinton (Mass.) High School graduate Keegan Bradley holed a lengthy par putt on No. 18 to salvage a 73, which left him tied for 46th . . . Steven Fox can always say that his name was on the first-round leaderboard at the Masters. At the beginning of play on Thursday, all of the big boards on the course have the following names, in order: the reigning champions of the Masters, US Amateur, US Open, British Amateur, British Open, and PGA Championship. So when spectators arrived, a big, green FOX was right below WATSON (as in Bubba), and right above SIMPSON (as in Webb). Fox, one of six amateurs in the field, opened with a 76. US Amateur Public Links champion T.J. Vogel and US Mid-Amateur winner Nathan Smith had 77s, US Amateur runner-up Michael Weaver a 78, and British Amateur champion Alan Dunbar an 83 . . . Bubba Watson shot 75, the highest first-round score by a defending champion since Phil Mickelson’s 76 in 2007. The man Watson beat in a playoff last year, Louis Oosthuizen, didn’t fare much better, shooting 74 . . . Tom Watson’s 79 is the second-highest among his 127 Masters rounds, topped only by a second-round 83 in 2009 . . . For the second year in a row, Gary Player joined Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer as ceremonial starters. All three hit tee shots into the first fairway, then stepped aside for the tournament to officially begin. None of the 93 players in the field received a louder, warmer greeting at the first tee . . . Ted Potter Jr. opened with 76, so unless the first-time participant rallies, the streak of the Par-3 Contest champion not winning the Masters in the same year will continue . . . The par-3 fourth hole yielded the fewest birdies, with just Luke Donald and Webb Simpson making 2s. The first hole played the toughest, though, to a 4.312 stroke average.Michael Whitmer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.