While Woods has gone 20 tournaments over 17 months without a win, he’s always a contender at Augusta National, where he’s captured four green jackets and finished fourth a year ago.
Defending champion Phil Mickelson teed off in the next-to-last group and pushed his opening tee shot into the trees left of the fairway. He scrambled to save the first of seven straight pars, before a birdie at No. 8 pushed him into the red for the first time.
Mickelson drove under an azalea bush at the 13th and had to scramble for a par. But he birdied the next two holes to push his score to 3 under — a solid start to his bid for a fourth green jacket.
Lefty was coming off a three-stroke win at Houston, his first triumph since last year’s Masters and a sign that his game was peaking at just the right time.
Yang made an eagle at the 13th and briefly pulled into a tie for the lead with consecutive birdies on 15 and 16. But a wild drive behind the trees led to a bogey at the 17th, and he made another at the final hole after knocking his approach shot over the green and failing to pull off a tricky up and down.
There were plenty of red numbers on the board.
Matt Kuchar and Ricky Barnes shot 68, and K.J. Choi went to the 18th at 4 under. Five other players were in at 69: Sergio Garcia, Charl Schwartzel, Brandt Snedeker, Ross Fisher and 2008 Masters champion Trevor Immelman.
Two-time U.S. Open winner Retief Goosen had the early lead after holing out an eagle from the fairway on the first hole. But the South African limped to the finish with three straight bogeys for a 70 that felt much worse.
For the first time since 1999, Woods wasn’t the Augusta favorite. Mickelson is the bookmakers’ choice at 13-2, while his longtime rival is the second pick at 10-1.
PGA champion Martin Kaymer came in as the world’s top-ranked player, but he’s never made it to the weekend at Augusta. Looks like the German will be going home early for the fourth year in a row, opening with a dismal 78 — his worst score yet in the Masters.
“For me, it was very difficult,” Kaymer said. “There’s some golf courses that suit you and some, they just don’t.”
Lee Westwood is a former No. 1 in the second spot behind Kaymer. The Englishman is regarded as the best player never to win a major, an unwanted distinction he’d sure like to erase from his record. He has some work to do, too, bogeying the final hole for a 72.