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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Frustration was Tiger Woods’ constant companion Thursday at the 2023 Masters. There was pain in his rebuilt right leg, the kind of pain that never goes away, Tiger said. There were approach shots that fell short and putts that lipped out. There were too many bogeys at the beginning and after a burst of momentum, one last bogey at the end.

All in all, it was not the Tiger we remember but the Tiger we’ve come to know.

Woods finished with an unsatisfying first round 2-over 74, well behind the leaders, and the nagging knowledge that he couldn’t take advantage of Augusta National when the conditions were most welcoming.

“I just didn’t do the job I needed to do to get the ball close,” Woods, a five-time Masters champion, said afterward. “Today was the opportune time to get the round under par, and I didn’t do that. Most of the guys are going low today. This was the day to do it. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll be a little bit better, a little bit sharper, and kind of inch my way through it.”

Tiger did have a front-row seat for 25-year-old co-leader Viktor Hovland’s scintillating seven-under 65, and Xander Schauffele’s four-under performance that also found him on the leaderboard. It was both ironic and a sign of the times that Tiger’s threesome included the first-round co-leader and another player near the lead, and neither was Tiger.

Masters 2023 leaderboard: Get the latest news from Augusta

But it all made sense. After taking nearly two months off from competitive golf, Woods was rusty. There were bogeys on No. 3, No. 5 and No. 7. All that early misery occurred in the first two hours on a course that he absolutely loves, and still on occasion loves him back. Perspiration beaded on his face and soaked through his white shirt on a warm, humid day. This was a grind, and he knew it.

“I didn’t have very good speed early,” he said. “I had two three-putts and consequently I’m a couple over par. I didn’t hit my irons close enough today. I didn’t give myself very good looks. I need to do a better job of that going forward to hopefully get myself back in this tournament.”

No matter what happens or how far behind he is, some things never change: Tiger still thinks he can be in the mix on the weekend, which is supposed to be rainy, cold and miserable, not exactly prime conditions for a 47-year-old with a bum leg.

Two in a row for Tiger Woods. #themasters

— The Masters (@TheMasters) April 6, 2023

But there are always moments for Tiger when the golf gods wake up and decide his fortunes are about to change. When a delicate chip on the par-5 eighth nestled just a few inches from the cup, Tiger collected his first birdie and all of a sudden, there was a bounce in that lumbering, often-labored step of his.

After another bogey on 11, he rattled off back-to-back birdies on 15 and 16 and a quick thought flashed through your mind: might he birdie in? This being 2023, not 2001 or 2002, the answer was a definite no. He ended on 18 not with a bang, but with one last bogey.

Tiger and the Masters have the most fascinating relationship. If ever a golfer was made for a golf course, it’s Woods at Augusta National. He loves it here. To him, it’s home. So when he says, as he did this week, “I don’t know how many more I have in me,” meaning Masters appearances, fans stream to him as they do no one else, and many stick around no matter what, gazing toward the solitary figure in the fairway as if they were looking at a masterpiece in a museum.

His five wins here include his most improbable triumph in 2019 at 43. Can he do it again? It’s highly unlikely, but with Tiger, you never want to say never. The issue for him, be it on a Thursday at the Masters or forevermore, is not so much the golf. It’s the leg. Over the course of a four-round tournament, his scores almost always get worse because of the cumulative wear and tear his leg suffers from walking the course.

Last year, when he staged a stunning comeback just 14 months after his February 2021 car crash, his scores went the wrong direction: 71-74-78-78.

His scores in the only other tournament he has played this year, the Genesis Invitational nearly two months ago, where he finished tied for 45th, were a bit different, but still illustrative of the issue: 69-74-67-73.

“I think my game is better than it was last year at this particular time,” Woods said earlier this week. “I think my endurance is better. But (the right leg) aches a little bit more than it did last year just because at that particular time when I came back, I really had not pushed it that often. … I can hit a lot of shots but the difficulty for me is going to be the walking going forward. It is what it is. I wish it could be easier.”

In three years, when he is 50, he will be eligible for the PGA Tour Champions senior circuit, where he won’t have to walk nearly as much.

“I’ve got three more years where I get the little buggy (golf cart) and be out there with Fred (Couples),” he said with a smile, “but until then, no buggy.”

So on he walks, enduring both mistakes and constant pain, hoping there might be one last slice of magic for him at this place of all places.

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