By Steve Keating
AUGUSTA, Georgia, April 11 (Reuters) – Tiger Woods got his Masters campaign off to a solid start on Thursday but the world number one was forced to share the Augusta spotlight.
When first round action began it seemed for a moment as if the 14-times major winner was part of girlfriend Lindsey Vonn’s ‘Vonn-tourage’ as hundreds of media and thousands of spectators scrambled to catch glimpse of the Olympic skiing champion.
As Vonn sightings surfaced a bizarre buzz swept across Augusta National adding some celebrity intrigue to the year’s first major.
While Vonn’s appearance created a distraction for the galleries, Woods remained focused on the task at hand and mixed three birdies with a single bogey for an opening two-under 70 to sit just four back of co-leaders Marc Leishman of Australia and Spaniard Sergio Garcia.
It was a good omen for Woods, who shot 70 in the opening round in three of his four Masters wins. Only once in 19 Masters has Woods started with a score lower than 70.
“It’s a good start,” summed up Woods. “Some years some guys shot 65 starting out here. But right now I’m only four back and I’m right there.
“It was a good day. A solid day.”
It also appeared to be a very good day out for Vonn, who is recovering from knee surgery but made the trip to Augusta to support her boyfriend.
A smiling Vonn, sporting a wide brimmed hat, tan sun dress and a leg brace, made her way down the first fairway to watch Woods tee off then, according to reports, retreated to one of the hospitality areas to ice her knee and drink a glass of “chilled champagne.”
It marked the first public appearance for the sports world’s newest power couple since announcing last month that they were dating.
With the world number one ranking back beside his name and three PGA Tour wins from five starts this season, including his final two Masters tune-up events, Woods arrived at Augusta as betting favorite to add a fifth green jacket to his collection.
Anyone backing Woods this week will not be disappointed in his workmanlike effort during the opening round, which included three birdies and one bogey.
Woods’s surge back to the top of the world rankings last month was supported by a sizzling putter which he just could not get firing on Thursday on Augusta’s tricky greens.
“I thought the greens were a little bit tough … they didn’t have the roll out,” said Woods. “A couple of putts, we were talking about it in our group, that just weren’t that fast.
“The wind picked up in the middle part of the round. Got a little bit swirly there at Amen Corner, as usual.
“But overall I think the biggest challenge today was just the speed of the greens. They just weren’t quite there.”