Tiger Woods got his bid for an overdue 15th major title under way on Thursday as he sought the fast start essential to his hopes of winning the Masters for the first time in 14 years.
Woods split the fairway on the opening hole with a drive of 317 yards, but after a mediocre approach to 30 feet, his birdie attempt never threatened the hole and he settled for a stress-free par.
The former world number one was 33rd after an opening round of 74 before claiming his fourth green jacket in 2005, since when the last 13 champions at Augusta National were inside the top 10 after the opening round.
Woods could only finish 32nd last year in his first Masters appearance since 2015, but was sixth in the Open Championship at Carnoustie – after leading with eight holes to play – and runner-up in the US PGA after a closing round of 64 at Bellerive.
The 43-year-old then secured the 80th PGA Tour title of his career in the Tour Championship in Atlanta and is one of just three players in the world’s top 20 with experience of winning the Masters.
Rory McIlroy needs to do so in order to join Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen in completing the career grand slam and the Northern Irishman was in the group behind Woods alongside last year’s runner-up Rickie Fowler and Australian Cameron Smith.
Shane Lowry was among the early groups out but is three-over after a trio of birdies around the turn.
Patrick Reed got his title defence under way in the company of Webb Simpson and US Amateur champion Viktor Hovland, but 2015 winner Jordan Spieth had to wait until the final tee time of 1400 local time (1900 BST) to get his campaign started.
Spieth, who has finished no worse than 11th in his five starts in the Masters, will play alongside England’s Paul Casey and three-time major winner Brooks Koepka, who missed out last year due to a wrist injury.
Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose and Justin Thomas are in the preceding group at 1349 local time (1849 BST), with Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Jason Day making up another star-studded group 11 minutes earlier.
Earlier in the day, Player was able to maintain bragging rights after joining Nicklaus in getting the 83rd Masters under way.
Player and Nicklaus continued their role as honorary starters by each hitting a tee shot on the opening hole, with 83-year-old Player producing the longest – and most accurate – drive by around 30 yards from 79-year-old Nicklaus.
- Press Association