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Tiger Woods: Dramatic Golf Return "Felt Normal"

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.

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"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."

Returning from a five-month layoff and trying to rebuild his reputation after a sex scandal, Woods quickly showed his game was still in good shape at the Masters on Thursday.

He made two eagles in one day for the first time in a Masters round on his way to a 4-under-par 68 - his best first-day score ever at a tournament he's won four times. He had never started with a score lower than 70 until Thursday, when he put himself just two strokes behind the surprising leader, 50-year-old Fred Couples.

"Why play if you don't think you're going to win?" Woods said at a post-round press conference. "If I don't think I can win, I won't enter the event."

Woods also talked about the strong play of veterans like couples and 60-year-old Tom Watson, the importance of meditation in his life, and the unusually easy pin placements during the tournament's first day.

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, his best score ever at the Masters.

Tom Watson, at 60 the oldest player in this Masters, picked up from his amazing ride in last summer's British Open with a bogey-free 67 that left him tied with Lee Westwood, Phil Mickelson, PGA champion Y.E. Yang and K.J. Choi.

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The world's No. 1 got off to a good start for his fifth green jacket, and his score could have been even lower. He lipped out four putts.

Still, no complaints after being away from the game so long and enduring plenty of ridicule over his personal life, which fell apart after a Thanksgiving night car crash led to revelations of multiple extramarital affairs.

Even so, he heard nothing but cheers from the Augusta National fans.

"It was unbelievable, the whole day," Woods said. "The people, I haven't heard them cheer this loud in all my years coming here. It certainly helped keep my spirits up."


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Woods rolled in eagle putts at the eighth and 15th holes. That pushed his score to 4 under and left him just two strokes off the lead despite not having played for five months. He nearly made another eagle at 13, but the putt lipped out.

Veteran Fred Couples shot a four-under back nine to take the first day lead at six-under. Phil Mickelson 60-year-old Tom Watson - posting another turn-back-the-clock round - were among those tied for second at 5-under 67.

But all eyes were on the world's best player during one of the most scrutinized opening rounds in golf history.

Woods bounced back from his first bogey with two precise shots that set up a 10-footer for eagle at the par-5 eighth. When the ball dropped in the cup, patrons rose in unison to salute the disgraced golfer, who delivered his first fist pump of the day.

Coming out of the clubhouse, Woods bogeyed the 10th to fall back to 2-under. He birdied at 13 but gave back the shot with a bogey on the next hole. But a resurgent Woods nabbed his second eagle of the day at 15 to draw within two shots of the lead.

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Tocha Cunningham waited along the first fairway with her 15-year-old son, Jordan Salley, who is a huge fans of Woods and was attending his first Masters

"I'm ready to watch him. He's always been my favorite player. He's always been an inspiration," Jordan said.

The mother tried to discuss the scandal with her son.

"He understood, but Jordan did not want to talk about it because Tiger is his hero," she said. "He wanted to look beyond the personal and just focus on the golf."

Officials at Augusta National insisted that no one player - not even when it's the world's best embroiled in a scandal - would overshadow their tournament. And for a few moments, at least, that was the case as Jack Nicklaus joined Arnold Palmer at the first tee shortly after sunrise for the opening shots.

"I've never been up this early at Augusta," cracked the 70-year-old Nicklaus, who won a record six green jackets and agreed to return this year to join Palmer in a ceremonial role.