Tiger Woods says he's 'right there in the ballgame'

Reporting from Augusta, Ga. — Tiger Woods didn't break 70 to begin his Masters quest on Thursday. That's nothing new — he has done it only once in 17 opening rounds at Augusta National.

Nor did being six shots behind co-leaders Rory McIlroy and Alvaro Quiros seem all that bothersome. After all, he has come back from an opening Masters deficit of seven before.

"I'm right there in the ballgame," Woods said after a one-under-par 71 left him squarely in the chase pack. "I'm only six back. We've got a lot of golf ahead of us."

It was a hot-and-cold day for the four-time Masters champion, who is seeking to end a five-year drought between green jackets. Three birdies were countered by bogeys at Nos. 10 and 11, plus a handful of birdie putts that he couldn't coax in.

Perhaps none were more frustrating than then one at the par-four 18th. After barely avoiding the fairway bunker right of the fairway, Woods struck a superb approach that came to rest just eight feet from the hole.

But the birdie try hardly sniffed the hole, sliding well left of its target.

"Just pulled it," Woods said.

The putt for par was his 30th of the day, a number that won't contend in many tournaments. Even so, Woods was upbeat about his work on the greens.

"Today was one of those days where I hit beautiful putts," he said. "I was hitting my lines and they just weren't going in. That's fine. It's not like I was pulling it or blocking it or something like that."

The only time Woods has broken 70 in his opening Masters round happened last year, when he made his return from a scandal-sparked hiatus. Though slow starts are nothing new, his second round often holds the key.

In three of his four Masters victories, Woods has fired a second-round 66. The other time, he carded a 69.

"I would rather be where Rory's at," Woods said. "But hey, it's a long way to go. We have a long grind ahead of us."

A punch in the gut

A body blow from Mike Tyson in his prime would have hurt less than what Mark Wilson experienced on the eighth green Thursday.

Even par in his first Masters, Wilson had a 10-footer for birdie on the 570-yard hole.

"I had an uphiller and thought, 'Aw, I can give this a little rap,'" Wilson said. "I hit it through the break three feet past. I missed that one, and it went another three feet past. I missed that one too."

Wilson four-putted the green and played the next few holes in a daze, recording three straight bogeys.

"It really was a shocker," said Wilson, who has won twice on the PGA Tour this year. "Normally, I don't let that stuff affect me but, boy, it took about a half-hour to get over it. I was like: 'What did I just do?'"

Wilson recovered with birdies on Nos. 13 and 14 before what he called a "silly" three-putt bogey on 18 for a four-over 76.

"I earned my way here," he said, "and I'll be fighting hard [Friday] to get myself back in the tournament."

Legends kick things off

Jack Nicklaus gazed out at the morning shadows falling across Augusta National's first fairway and was struck by a sudden thought.

"I don't know if I can hit it out of the shadows or not," Nicklaus said to fans gathered around the tee.

Nicklaus did, his ceremonial opening drive nearly getting to the crest of the hill that rises halfway down the fairway. Arnold Palmer also gave his a strong lash, punching the air and high-fiving Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne after his traveled down the fairway.

Thursday marked the second year that Nicklaus has joined Palmer as ceremonial starters, reuniting a tandem that dueled several times in majors and has 10 Masters green jackets.

"Standing on the first tee, you just sort of say, 'Hey, I used to be here. This is fun,'" Nicklaus said.

Asked if he still gets nervous over the shot — faced with hundreds of fans lining the first fairway — Palmer, 81, was forthright.

"I sure do," he said. "When I stop getting nervous, I won't be here."

Rules of golf tweaked

Golfers nabbed in a rule violation by super-slow-motion replay after signing their scorecards no longer face tournament disqualification. Getting caught on video being ignorant of the rules still will, though.

That's the upshot of a new interpretation handed down early Thursday, just in time to be applied at the Masters.

The narrowly worded revision spares golfers disqualification for signing an incorrect scorecard if later video replay shows they've committed an infraction not visible to the naked eye. The appropriate penalty would be applied and the golfer allowed to continue. However, it will not spare violators nabbed by video for other infractions, including those in which the player wasn't aware of the rule.

Memorable No. 18

Amateur Nathan Smith called it "a Happy Gilmore situation."

Smith flew his third shot into the 18th green, and it came to rest in the lap of a seated patron.

"He looked very still, like he was afraid to move," Smith said. "I was [jokingly] asking him why he didn't kick it back on the green."

As he assessed the situation, Smith rewarded the fan with an extra ball. The man reciprocated by offering his beer. Smith took a couple of chugs, sending the crowd into hysterics.

Smith, a 32-year-old Pittsburgh-area investment adviser who qualified by winning the Mid-Amateur Championship, putted from about 15 yards off the green to three feet. He knocked it home for a three-over 75.

"Business is good," Smith said. "I'll tell my clients: 'I don't know what the market did, but you should have seen the up-and-down I made on 18.'"

Upon hearing questions after his Masters round about "the latest earthquake," Japan's Ryo Ishikawa assumed reporters were asking about the one that hit his homeland four weeks ago.

They weren't. An aftershock measuring 7.1 hit the island nation Thursday, about a half-hour after the 19-year-old pro teed off at Augusta National.

"That was news to me," Ishikawa said as he digested the news. "I think it is very serious."

Thursday's aftershock was the strongest to hit Japan since the hours immediately after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that killed as many as 25,000 people.

Power was knocked out in Sendai and other northern locales, but initial reports said the aftershock caused few problems.

"I think it would have been more difficult if we had more devastation in the Sendai area," said Hiroyuki Fujita, another of the Masters' four Japanese entrants. "I think it would have been difficult."

Fujita opened with a two-under-par 70 Thursday; Ishikawa carded a 71.

"It feels like we can't relax because of the situation," said Ishikawa, who has pledged to donate all of his 2011 tournament winnings to the relief effort. "I am a bit worried."

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