Augusta, Ga. — Tiger Woods played like the last five months never happened.
Even more surprising, he felt that way, too.
No longer the same person after he was caught cheating on his wife, Woods looked every bit the same golfer Thursday when he opened with a 4-under 68 — his best first round ever at Augusta National — that left him only two shots behind 50-year-old Fred Couples on an extraordinary opening day at the Masters.
It just didn’t seem that way to Woods.
Standing on the first tee, looking down a fairway lined with thousands of spectators curious to see how he would respond to a sex scandal that shocked the world, Woods didn’t flinch.
“It felt normal,” he said. “Try to hit a little fade off the first tee, try to take something off of it and make sure I got it in play. That was about it. From there, I just went about my business.”
Indeed, he was the same Tiger.
He pledged to control his emotions on the course, yet there was little change. Woods twirled his club after a good drive, slammed it after a few bad ones. He pumped his fist after making the first of two eagles and sunk to his knees when he missed a birdie putt on the 16th that slowed his climb up the leaderboard.
And just like always, he complained about not making enough putts.
“Otherwise, it could have been a very special round,” Woods said.
Yet it was special in so many ways.
Couples, who played a practice round with Woods on Monday, sauntered along in tennis shoes and no socks and shot a 6-under 66. It was his best score ever at the Masters and made him the oldest player to be the outright leader for any round.
“I never really thought about what I was shooting,” said Couples, who already has won three times this year on the 50-and-older Champions Tour. “It was a fun day for me. I still think I can play, and if I putt well I’ve got to be some kind of factor in my mind.”