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Tiger Woods off to strong start at storm-interrupted Masters

Augusta, Georgia, Nov 12 (efe-epa).- Defending champion Tiger Woods got off to an auspicious start at the Masters on Thursday, firing a 4-under 68 in the first round to position himself just three shots behind leader Paul Casey.

The 44-year-old Woods showed his thorough familiarity with a course and an event he has won five times dating back to his first appearance at Augusta National Golf Club in 1995, posting a bogey-free 18 holes for the first time in 106 rounds at major championships and tying his career low for a first round at the Masters.

Teeing off on the back nine, the 15-time major champion moved to 2-under by recording birdies on a pair of par 5s (holes 13 and 15). He then expertly played the slope of the green on the par 3 16th to set up a tap-in birdie.

Woods also got off to a hot start on the front nine when he rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-4 first hole before finishing his round with eight consecutive pars.

The American golfing great, who finished tied for 37th at this year’s PGA Championship, missed the cut at the US Open and has seen his ranking fall from No. 6 to No. 33 since January, is looking to cap off an otherwise frustrating season by capturing his 16th major championship at this behind-closed-doors event.

“I played well today. I drove well, hit my irons well, putted well … The only thing I can say is that I wish I would’ve made a few more putts. I missed everything on the high side,” Woods said afterward.

Casey also started on the back nine and, like Woods, was virtually flawless over 18 holes.

He carded four birdies over the first nine holes and remained hot down the final stretch by notching an eagle on the par-5 second hole and one final birdie on the par-3 sixth.

Casey has talked about the difficulty of playing without fans during the pandemic, but he said there still is a special energy he can draw from at Augusta National.

“The Masters … still has a buzz to it. There’s still something about it. There’s an energy and a little bit of a vibe. Yes, it’s clearly a lot less than what we’re used to. But there’s something about this place,” the English world No. 22 said.

Casey has a two-shot lead over a trio of American players – world No. 7 Webb Simpson, eighth-ranked Xander Schauffele and world No. 3 Justin Thomas. The latter, however, only played 10 holes before play was suspended due to darkness.

Thomas was one of dozens of players whose tee times were pushed back due to a lightning storm early on Thursday and who will need to complete their first rounds early Friday.

The Masters is typically the first golf major of the season, but it was postponed until November this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. EFE-EPA

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