2 Penalty Strokes Mar Tiger's Opening Round

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AUGUSTA, Ga. - The signs, posted after the rain, offered a warning: "Caution, slippery when wet.'' What they neglected to say was: "No less dangerous when dry."

Such a beautiful place, Augusta National, with those tall Georgia pines, finely mowed fairways and rolling greens. Such a troublesome place, Augusta National, when playing from under those pines or the wrong spots on those greens.

"This golf course,'' Tiger Woods said Thursday on a perplexing Day 1 of the Masters, "is playing too difficult to go super low on."

Or for Woods to go low at all, never mind super. He kept things together for 16 holes, then let them loose on the final two.

Some people figured it out. Leader Lee Westwood, who never has won a major, was 5 under par. Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion, was 4 under. Others were flummoxed.

Henrik Stenson had two eagles on the front nine and was at 5 under par. Then he took a quadruple-bogey 8 on the 18th, shooting 1 under at 31-40-71. "Finishing with an 8,'' he sighed, "I don't think I've ever done that before."

Still, he was a shot ahead of Woods, who, depending on the viewpoint, either had a brilliant even-par 72, making an 8-foot par-saver on No. 1, an 8-foot-par-saver on No. 2 and one-putting for a bogey on 18, or a disappointing 72, closing bogey, bogey.

"Today,'' conceded Tiger, "I squeezed a lot out of that round. I didn't hit it very good at all."

The new Tiger looked a great deal like the old Tiger, turning nothing into something, one-putting seven holes, only three of those for birdies, and turning something into nothing with shots that led to penalty drops on two holes, the second and the 18th.

"I just felt my way around,'' he explained. "I really grinded, staying very present. I know how to play this golf course. I think it's just understanding what I need to do."

What he doesn't need to do is what he did - hook balls off the tee. What he needs to do is what he did - make critical putts, whether for birdies, pars or bogeys, as he did at 18 after his drive came to rest against a tree.

Tiger may not be in it, five shots out of the lead, but neither is he out of it. Perhaps more was expected, Woods finally getting a full-field PGA Tour victory two weeks ago at Bay Hill, his first in more than two years. Everyone said this Masters would be among Tiger, Rory McIlroy and maybe Hunter Mahan. Yet Woods rarely opens well.

In 17 previous Masters, the only time he broke par in the first round was 2010, the return after the disclosure of infidelity. He had a 4-under 68 and ended up tied for fourth. Otherwise, in his four Masters victories, the last in 2005, Woods never started with better than a 72. And in '05 it was a 74.

Yes, he knows how to play Augusta. In the last seven Masters, Tiger has not finished worse than sixth. But can that knowledge be more than just an understanding?

As all the best players, Woods rarely blames himself for his problems. Paul Goydos, the longtime pro whose witticisms and sarcasm were noted in John Feinstein's "A Good Walk Spoiled,'' has said when a top player misses a short putt, you'll invariably note him looking for a spike mark.

In other words, nature had to be the reason, not the man swinging the club. Don't want to create any self-doubt.

Tiger confided he warmed up poorly. "Hit a few loose ones,'' he said. But that was easily correctable. Or was it?

"Same old motor patterns,'' said Woods. Presumably those, the swing taught by Hank Haney, had been replaced by those taught by Sean Foley. But Thursday, in the first major of the year, it wasn't to be.

"The Hank backswing with the new downswing," said Tiger. "I'm struggling with it all the way around with all the clubs. I really need to do some work.

"I had to stay committed on each and every shot. I really did that. I made some bad swings. That's fine. My commitment was what (he was focusing on). My alignment, my setup, everything. I'm excited about that, and I can take some positives going into tomorrow."

Woods tees off late Friday, very late, at 1:42 p.m. EDT, the second-to-last group. By the time he starts, he'll know what virtually everyone else will be doing or has done. By the time he ends, he'll know how much he'll need to do.

Haney, with whom Woods walked for several years until the spring of 2010, has written a controversial book about Tiger's game and Tiger's personality, "The Big Miss."

The literal misses in the first round of the Masters weren't big. They were just too frequent to overcome.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- and a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He's also honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America. His columns appear in RealClearSports on Wednesdays and Fridays.

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