Redemption Tour: Tiger Has His Best Ever Start at Augusta

Tiger finishes first day in good form and in second place behind Couples

By Josh Kleinbaum
|  Thursday, Jun 30, 2011  |  Updated 11:54 AM PDT
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Nike Produces New Tiger Woods Commercial

AP

Tiger Woods watches his tee shot on the first hole of the 2010 Masters.

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After receiving a resounding ovation from a packed crowd at the first hole of August National, Tiger Woods did what he does best: Drove a golf ball deep into a fairway.

And just like that, Tiger was back home. For a few hours, at least, talk of infidelity, mistresses and rehab was on the back burner. The four-time Masters champion is going for number five -- and had his best start ever.

He shot a 4-under-par 68, which is his best first day score at the Masters.

"Why play if you don't think you're going to win?" Woods said. "If I don't think I can win, I won't enter the event."

Tiger approached the first hole wearing a striped gray Nike t-shirt and a Nike TW-logoed hat. He was greeted with loud applause from the crowd. But far above the links, a plane circled with a message: "Tiger: Did You Mean Bootyism?"

Later, another banner was paraded saying: “Sex Addict? Yeah. Right. Sure. Me Too!”

But Tiger ignored the potential distraction and focused instead on the rousing ovation.

"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."

Woods missed a birdie putt on the first hole and settled for par.

Woods made eagles at the eighth and 15th holes — the first time he's had multiple eagles in a Masters round. Also, he had never started with a score lower than 70 until Thursday. That's when he returned from a sex scandal and five-month layoff to put himself just two strokes behind leader Fred Couples.

For Woods, it's his first competitive golf in five months, since a late-night car-wreck in November derailed his career, his marriage and his picture-perfect reputation.

Since then, more than a dozen women have claimed affairs with the golf super star, he's been in and out of rehab, he's been dropped by a handful of sponsors and he's been linked to a doctor accused of giving athletes performance-enhancing drugs.

Tiger's wife Elin is not going to attend the tournament, he said.

Woods teed off in the next-to-last threesome, with with K.J. Choi and Matt Kuchar. His drive off the tee began what figures to be one of the most scrutinized opening rounds in golf history -- not a day for winning the tournament, but surely a chance for Woods to know show the's still an intimidating presence on the course.

During practice rounds this week, Woods appeared to be as interested in his behavoir as his performance. He was smiling more, making eye contact and even signing autographs.

Other than a half-hour press conference on Monday, though, he's avoided the press. Even in a new Nike commercial that debuted Wednesday night, he remains silent.

The thirty-second commercial borders on creepy. Filmed in black-and white, it shows Woods standing silently on a golf course, wearing a Nike hat and a Nike sweater-vest, while the voice of his dad father, Earl, addresses him: "I want to find out what your thinking was, I was to find out what your feelings are, and did you learn anything."

We likely won't get answers to those questions over the next four days. But we will find out Tiger can overcome scandal off green with success on it.

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