Tiger hits opening round of 71 at Masters

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Tiger Woods didn’t break 70 to begin his Masters quest Thursday. That’s nothing new — he has done it only once in 17 opening rounds at Augusta National.

Nor did being six shots behind co-leaders Rory McIlroy and Alvaro Quiros seem all that bothersome. After all, he has come back from an opening Masters deficit of seven before.

“I’m right there in the ballgame,” Woods said after a 1-under-par 71 left him squarely in the chase pack. “I’m only six back. We’ve got a lot of golf ahead of us.”

It was a hot-and-cold day for the four-time Masters champion, who is seeking to end a five-year drought without a green jacket. He countered three birdies with bogeys at Nos. 10 and 11, plus a handful of birdie putts he couldn’t coax in.

Perhaps none was more frustrating than one at the par-4 18th. After barely avoiding the bunker right of the fairway, Woods struck a superb approach that came to rest 8 feet from the hole.

But the birdie try hardly sniffed the hole, sliding well left of its target.

“Just pulled it,” Woods said.

The par putt was his 30th putt of the day, a number that won’t contend in many tournaments. Even so, Woods was upbeat about his work on the greens.

“Today was one of those days where I hit beautiful putts,” he said. “I was hitting my lines and they just weren’t going in. That’s fine. It’s not like I was pulling it or blocking it or something like that.”

The only time Woods has broken 70 in his opening Masters round happened last year, when he made his return from a scandal-sparked hiatus. Though slow starts are nothing new, his second round often holds the key.

In three of his four Masters victories, Woods fired a second-round 66. The other time, he carded a 69.

“I would rather be where Rory’s at,” Woods said. “But, hey, it’s a long way to go. We have a long grind ahead of us.”

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