Augusta, Ga. Tiger Woods' first stop on his road to a fourth straight major championship took a detour into the trees Thursday at the Masters.
With the ball sitting on a patch of pine straw, Woods sized up his options over, under or around the Georgia pines at Augusta National. He settled on a 2-iron to punch beneath the limbs, but the ball ran into a bunker in front of the green.
That didn't bother him. Neither did the 7-under 65 by Masters rookie Chris DiMarco, or the fact that Woods wasn't among the 14 players who broke 70.
"This is a major championship. It's four days," Woods said after a 2-under 70 that left him five strokes out of the lead. "Everyone knows it's awfully hard to go out there and shoot in the mid-60s every day."
He can only hope DiMarco figures that out soon.
With Augusta playing soft and forgiving some players dared say "easy" DiMarco made seven birdies in his first 13 holes for the best opening round by a Masters first-timer in 11 years and a one-stroke lead over Steve Stricker and Angel Cabrera.
"You're not going to have things go your way all the time, and I had everything go my way today," DiMarco said. "I just hope it stays like that."
Woods couldn't say the same.
It was the seventh straight year, the last five as a professional, that he failed to break 70 in the first round of the Masters.
"If you can just shoot under par ... that was my mindset going out there today," Woods said. "And I was able to do that."
This was a day that offered something much better barely a trace of wind and moisture still in the manicured grass from rain earlier in the week.
So many others took advantage.
Phil Mickelson, Woods' chief rival over the past year, made four straight birdies on the back nine for a 67 and his best start in five years at Augusta.
Right behind was a big surprise, 23-year-old amateur James Driscoll, who holed a bunker shot for birdie on No. 16 for a 68, the lowest first round by an amateur since 1983.
Defending champion Vijay Singh got off to a conservative start and still managed a 69, along with former champion Mark O'Meara. Others among the 32 players who broke par were Jose Maria Olazabal (70), while the group at 71 included David Duval, Greg Norman, Ernie Els and Davis Love III.
All of them will join Woods in pursuit of DiMarco, who is still learning his way around the course.
DiMarco escaped trouble from the trees by punching out a 6-iron into 12 feet for a birdie on No. 5, and holed another birdie putt on the par-3 sixth. Then, he showed he was a quick study by hitting wedge into 3 feet on No. 7 for his third straight birdie.
"I've heard how hard the greens are, and they're a little softer this year," he said. "I had a good sand wedge yardage. I knew it would spin back, so I just chipped a wedge in there," he said.
DiMarco is not the first player to wind up in the lead after his first trip around Augusta. A year ago, Dennis Paulson had a 68, but failed to break par the rest of the week.
"There are probably 500 DiMarcos who could come out and shoot 7 under on the first day," Norman said. "They don't know the pressure of a golf course when they first come out here. But he could hold on, just like anybody else. He's got credentials."
And he has some company.
Stricker, who made the Masters by winning the Match Play Championship in Australia, got his first eagle at Augusta with a 15-foot putt on the 13th and let his putter bail him out when his tee shots made him scramble.
"I shouldn't say it wasn't a tough day," Stricker said, trying to pay homage to Augusta. "But it was the easiest I've seen since I've been here."
Mickelson, who recently learned his wife is pregnant with their second child, showed patience.
"I'm trying to focus on ... how to shoot the lowest round, where to try to attack, where to try to accept par and let other players make mistakes," he said.
Also at 67 were two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen and John Huston.
Woods knew early on that no one was going to lay down and let him just stroll into history. Sitting on a pine bench, staring at the ground, an enormous cheer turned his head. Through a strand of pines down the hill, he could see Driscoll with arms raised high after holing his bunker shot on the 16th.
"No expectations," said Driscoll, the U.S. Amateur runner-up. "I didn't think of the outcome of any shots. I just tried to look at the shots, see what I had and tried to pull it off."
No one has more expectations than Woods, especially at Augusta.
He won the Masters with a record score (270) and by a record margin (12 strokes) in his professional debut in 1997. He returns having won the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship, setting a scoring record in each of them.
Woods was in position to join the leaders when he made the turn at 2 under, but a 4-foot par putt horseshoed around the hole on No. 10, and so many other medium-length chances turned away.
"I played pretty solid," he said. "I hit a lot of good drives, a lot of crisp irons. The golf course is set up awfully difficult. The pins are tucked in some corners and you have to make a lot of 15-foot putts. I wasn't able to do that."
He also opened with a 70 when he blitzed the field in 1997, and there is plenty of time left to catch up to the leaders. Augusta figures to get harder, faster and firmer as the week goes along, and that could play into Woods' hands.
"It's an advantage to anyone who's playing well," Woods said. "With the greens being soft and receptive, guys hitting it borderline can get away with it. Once the greens get baked out ... you can't get away with it."